To Yasamin Salamat, advancing the science of water purification and pushing the dialogue in water policy are closely linked – both as means to tackling the challenges of water access, and because her passion and her research evolved together; “When I started my PhD, my advisor suggested I look at this project, using electrochemistry for water treatment,” she explains, “I knew very little about electrochemistry, but I liked the objective of working on a water treatment system very much. It was really scary, but also really exciting! And as I was working on my PhD, I was also becoming more and more passionate about environmental issues and water policy.”
For the past five years, Salamat’s research has focused on the studying and improving a tunable and efficient water purification system that uses an electrically-charged material to remove impurities from water. “The system creates an electrical field to draw out any impurity in the water carrying its own electrical charge. These charged impurities will be drawn to a charged porous medium, a material with micropores to give it a lot of surface area – these pores trap the impurities, removing them from the water.”
While large-scale water purification plants exist around the world, they are not ideal for all tasks. “Large plants are very good at processing water with a very high level of contaminants, such as seawater,” Salamat explains, “But for water with lower concentrations of contamination, they are much less efficient. Also, they deliver water that is almost 100% pure, which is not necessary for agricultural or some industrial purposes. That is where this system comes into play – as well as being more efficient than large-scale purification at treating water with lower levels of contamination, this system can tune the concentration at the exit of the system.”
Looking ahead, Salamat would like to see her system being used to recycle and purify waste water to provide water for commercial purposes such as agriculture and manufacturing, where 100% pure water is not required. This would allow large treatment plants to focus on purifying water for human consumption.
As for herself, with her PhD completed, Salamat sees the next step in her career taking her to industry: “I want to work on a real-world product for water desalination or water remediation and get some experience in that world. In the long term though, I would like to find a path to working on these problems at a higher level, working on water policy. That’s the plan, anyway!” Yasamin laughs, “The UN, that would be my dream job.”