Guest post by the 8th grade students at Sullins Academy
The United Nations has developed goals that address the global challenges we face, and they’ve urged society to find solutions for them by 2030. As eighth graders, these are the challenges we will inherit as we enter the workforce. Our teacher, Sarah Hampton, challenged us to research the worldwide water crisis and then design and build a potential solution to help with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all.
Here are some things we learned about the water crisis that really made us stop and think. According to Matador Network, 3.6 million people die from water related diseases each year, half of the world’s schools do not have access to clean water nor adequate sanitation. On average, women in Africa and Asia have to walk 3.7 miles to collect their water. According to Seametrics, by 2040, there will not be enough water globally to quench everyone's thirst and keep energy and power solutions going if we don’t change our large water consumption habits. By 2050, five times more land will be likely to be under extreme drought. The Economic Times stated that nearly ⅕ of deaths under age 5 were linked to a water related disease, and Business Connect says that children in poor environments often carry 1000 parasitic worms in their bodies at any given time.
The Field Station:
Before we started designing solutions, we needed to get a better understanding of the problem and how scientists are already working on it. We had the amazing opportunity to go to the Bartlett-Crowe field station, a facility of the nearby Emory & Henry college. We hiked around the property and took samples from some bodies of water. We learned how to measure temperature, pH, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen using technology we hadn’t used before such as probes.
We also collected macroinvertebrates from the stream using a large net and tilting it at an angle downstream. Someone upstream stirred up all the sand and rocks by kicking and twisting in the streambed, and all the little macroinvertebrates would go into the net. Then, we carefully pulled out the net, collected the macroinvertebrates, and studied the different kinds we found. We learned that monitoring organisms is a great way to see if a water system is healthy. One thing we learned is that snails with gills are not able to withstand as much pollution, but snails with lungs are. Therefore, many snails with gills are an indication that the water is healthy. We learned that collecting macroinvertebrates can be an even better way to monitor water than using water kits because kits determine the water conditions at a precise moment in time which could change depending on time of day, weather, or nearby livestock and factory behaviors. Macroinvertebrates have to be able to survive the water conditions at all times and therefore tell you something about the long-term health of the water. Overall, we had a blast doing things real field biologists do all the time.
Throughout our project, we were real citizen scientists. We received a water testing kit from EarthEcho International and tested the turbidity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH of our campus stream several times throughout the year and submitted our data to their global reporting site. While collecting our water samples, we also cleaned up the stream banks by picking up trash and other debris. We loved being a part of EarthEcho’s goal to monitor trends in water quality around the world!
While researching the crisis, we discovered that several organizations use three types of tools to help that we found interesting: filters, solar desalination devices, and fog catchers.
- Filters separate out unhealthy particles leaving behind clean water
- Fog catchers capture fog and causes it to condense, giving you water
- Solar desalinators use the power of the sun to purify salt water by evaporating the water and leaving behind salt
In groups, we decided to put our own spin on these tools using the engineering design process.
Our filter groups decided to make simple, portable filters made from common materials that any person could carry with them and use before drinking water. While every filter design was different, each group used gravel and activated carbon in their designs. The gravel was used to physically remove all of the large dirt particles, leaves, and suspended in the water while the activated carbon chemically removed other impurities. Some groups used straw, cloth, sand, and paper to further strain the water. One group also distilled the water by boiling the filtered water and capturing the condensation. (This design would not be as portable but could still be easily done by anyone with access to a heat source and a few additional materials.)
Solar Desalination Group:
Solar desalination was originally used on ships in the 1600s (Li 2012) and was the perfect invention for sailors running low on healthy water but with an abundance of salt water on hand. The first large desalination plant was built in 1965 in California and was not very efficient. However, today, the largest plant is in Saudi Arabia and produces 273 million gallons per day! (“Ras Al Khair Desalination Plant”) We decided to build a small desalination device ideally capable of supporting one family. We iterated through two main designs. Our first one was made of wood for the walls with a glass panel for the top. This was placed on top of a tin foil pan with a cup of salt water in the middle. The idea was for the box to heat up and evaporate the water which would then condense on the top of the box and drip down into the pan. Unfortunately, our first design didn’t work very well. Our second design had glass on all sides so the sun could come in at all different angles and evaporate the water. The second design couldn’t support an entire family, but it worked and at least provided proof of concept.
Fog Hatcher Group:
Our group designed a combination between a fog harp and a fog catcher, the Fog Hatcher. The catcher part of our design collects fog (and rain!) on tulle we used for a net which then runs down the tulle into a pipe which drains into a bucket. The harp part of our design uses wires as a anchor for the condensation to drain down instead of getting stuck on the net. We strung several strands of wire in between two layers of tulle in our final design.
In addition to learning about the water crisis and the related physical science topics, we also learned several 21st century skills such as working as a team, persevering through setbacks, and using our growth mindsets. This project took a lot of time and patience, but we worked through it to accomplish our goal. We learned ways to collaborate outside of our classroom and ways to contribute to important scientific causes. We hope our projects benefit others by the data we submitted and maybe even by our designs!
Editor's Note: We are proud to support the students at Sullins Academy and are grateful for their work on the EarthEcho Water Challenge, as well as their efforts to develop solutions to the global water crisis.
Li C. (2012, January). Innovative Desalination Systems Using Low-grade Heat. University of
South Florida. Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5322&context=etd
Ras Al Khair Desalination Plant. Water Technology. Retrieved from
Scott, M. (2009, June 30). 40 Shocking Facts about Water. Matador Network. Retrieved from
Witze, Alexandra. (2018, August 18). Thirsty World: Globally, more than 2 billion people
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World’s Water Crisis is Getting Worse. Here is Why. (2017, March 22). The Economic Times.
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