The Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) has announced that two MIT PhD students, Krithika Ramchander and Andrea Beck, have been awarded fellowships to pursue water resource solutions for the 2018-2019 academic year. A third student, Julia Sokol, was chosen to receive an honorable mention.
This fall will mark the second year that J-WAFS has awarded fellowships to outstanding PhD candidates pursuing water sector research. The Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions and the J-WAFS Graduate Student Fellowship Program both give fellows one semester of funding as well as networking, mentorship, and opportunities to showcase their research.
The students were selected based on the quality and relevance of their research, as well as their demonstrated commitment to global as well as local challenges of water safety and water supply. The doctoral research topics the students are pursuing exemplify the wide range of approaches that J-WAFS supports across its various funding mechanisms. From the development of a novel, environmentally sustainable, and accessible water filter for rural communities in India, to a qualitative analysis of how to best strengthen a region’s public water and sanitation utilities, to engineering an innovative drip irrigation system designed to improve efficiency and reduce energy use, these research areas apply knowledge to the development of practical solutions that could be transformational for the communities that need them.
Krithika Ramchander, who has been awarded the 2018-2019 Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a past co-president of the MIT Water Club. The focus of Ramchander’s research is to develop a low-cost, point-of-use water filter using sapwood xylem from coniferous trees to facilitate safe access to drinking water for rural communities in India that lack access to safe water supplies.
Through research and field studies, she and others in Professor Rohit Karnik’s lab have shown how sapwood xylem could be repurposed into a water filter capable of meeting the drinking water requirement of an average household for nearly a week. The widespread availability of conifers in particular regions in India could allow for the manufacture of inexpensive, xylem-based filtration devices. If scaled up, this technology could support local economies across the globe as well as facilitate access to safe drinking water in regions that lack centralized water distribution systems.
The project, in collaboration with MIT D-Lab, has also been supported by two J-WAFS Solutions Grants in 2016 and 2017.
The winner of the 2018-2019 J-WAFS Graduate Student Fellowship, Andrea Karin Beck, is a PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Beck is examining how transnational water operators’ partnerships (WOPs) could provide an alternative approach for strengthening public water and sanitation utilities in developing countries.
In contrast to public-private partnerships that are commonly used by water and sanitation utilities, WOPs are aimed at peer-to-peer capacity-building on a not-for-profit and solidarity basis. To date, more than 200 WOPs have been formed around the world, predominantly between operators in the Global South.
Working with Professor Lawrence Susskind, Beck seeks to understand how different WOP constellations affect the everyday practices of water utility workers, and how these practices in turn mediate access to water and sanitation services among urban populations.
J-WAFS has also awarded an honorable mention to Julia Sokol, a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who researches novel designs for drip irrigation emitters that operate at lower pressures and are more clog-resistant than currently-available products.
Sokol is a student in Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab run by Professor Amos Winter. Her research there involves experimentally validating and refining models of the drip emitters used for drip irrigation. A new clog-resistant design, if made commercially available, could help lower the capital, operating, and labor costs for farmers that use drip irrigation systems. She is currently collaborating with a manufacturing partner in India as well as field trial partners in the Middle East and North Africa to produce emitters according to this new design, test them on working farms, quantify their impact, and collect user feedback.