Scientists develop a breakthrough pill targeting clean water crisis

by mcardinal

Megan Udinski, FISM News


Access to clean water is a problem that affects billions of people around the globe, but a new groundbreaking development by scientists at UT Austin might just be the solution.

A team of scientists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have manufactured a hydrogel pill that can disinfect one liter of river water in an hour making it suitable to drink. Unlike the traditional methods of boiling and pasteurization to purify water for drinking, this method would be easy to access because it does not rely on any energy input.  

While most American’s are able to turn on a faucet and access clean water on demand, millions of people around the world find it much more difficult to regularly access drinkable water.

According to Conserve Energy Future, every 90 seconds a child dies from water-related illness and disease due to a lack of clean water. While the planet is covered by 71% water, only 2.5% is fresh-water and only 1% is readily accessible. This leads to many poor areas in the world suffering from water-borne illness, drought, famine and death. WHO predicts that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas. 

According to UT News, when placed in water, this potentially life-saving technology generates hydrogen peroxide which “works with activated carbon particles to attack essential cell components of bacteria and disrupt their metabolism.” The pills are able to do this with an efficiency rate of more than 99.999% and do not create any harmful byproducts. 

Hydrogel technology has been around since the 1890s, and can be found in diapers, soft contact lenses, and glue, among many other uses. However, it was graduate student, Youhong Guo, that accidentally discovered this specific use for hydrogel technology while studying how to purify water by sunlight. 

The team is now looking for ways to improve the hydrogel technology by expanding the pathogens and viruses in water they can neutralize.  Since the materials to produce the hydrogel pills are inexpensive and the synthesis process is relatively simple, the scientists believe that manufacturing this product at a large scale would be easy. 

Additionally, it is believed that the hydrogel pills could also improve the method of solar water distillation. While this method is effective, it has many downsides including the accumulation of microorganisms which can lead to malfunctioning equipment, also known as biofouling.

Associate Professor Yu, who led this team of researchers, expressed his hope for the pills potential stating, “Our multifunctional hydrogel can make a big difference in mitigating global water scarcity because it is easy to use, highly efficient and potentially scalable up to mass production”