UBC researcher focuses on small-scale water filtration, disinfection for rural areas

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Dr. Sara Beck
Dr. Beck's doctoral dissertation focused on "Wavelength-Specific Effects of UV Light on Microorganisms and Viruses for Improving Water Disinfection". Photo Credit: UBC

New research at the University of British Columbia is aimed at removing microbial and chemical contaminants from water and wastewater in decentralized settings at smaller scales with limited resources compared to typical municipal infrastructure. 

Dr. Sara Beck, an assistant professor at UBC Civil Engineering, said she’s motivated to find simplified filtration and disinfection methods after personal experiences through Engineers Without Borders-USA, where she worked in water-challenged rural communities in Uganda, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Beck is receiving funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF)

Decentralized water treatment systems treat water at the point of collection or point of use without municipal engineering infrastructure. This necessitates alternative approaches tailored to local contexts where conventional approaches are not feasible, says Beck.

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“The pressing question that prompts this research is how do you achieve the same efficacy of water treatment at smaller scales with limited resources,” Beck announced in a statement. 

The acquisition of equipment for a microbiology lab will be a primary focus, UBC announced. The lab will enable Beck and her research team to identify bacterial, viral and microplastic contaminants of concern in surface water, groundwater, and cisterns, and also to enable the investigation of simplified filtration and disinfection methods for removing, inactivating, or degrading the contaminants.

Beck’s doctoral dissertation received the Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation award by the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) in 2016. Her dissertation was titled “Wavelength-Specific Effects of Ultraviolet Light on Microorganisms and Viruses for Improving Water Disinfection”. 

If Beck makes headway with her research, she hopes that simplified filtration and disinfection methods could find their way into decentralized treatment systems in households or community-scale systems, such as schools, to safeguard public health.

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