Skip to main content

Thirst for Knowledge

Students' drinking water project wins award

Eric Harshfield and Ana Jemec Dan Addison

When more than a billion people lack clean drinking water, the efforts of two UVA students might seem like a drop in the bucket.

But their plans to provide a sustainable water purification system for residents of Venda, South Africa, were important enough to win funding as one of 100 Projects for Peace. Eric Harshfield and Ana Jemec, both third-year chemical engineering students at the University, designed a system using low-tech, available materials and will spend part of the summer in Venda conducting seminars on water preservation and working with students from the University of Venda to help residents maintain the system.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to do research and make a difference in the community,” Harshfield says.

The students plan to build a sustainable surface water filtration system of sand, ultraviolet light and aeration using local materials. The area where they will work has limited ground water, and the surface water is contaminated.

“They have created a low-tech solution by blending existing technology,” says Robert Swap, associate professor for research in UVA’s environmental sciences department and a veteran of collaborative efforts in South Africa.

Projects for Peace is funded by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis, and officials encourage students to use creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in their proposals.

“We leave it up to the students to define what a ‘project for peace’ might be,” the organization’s Web site says.