A trilateral collaboration hosted by the University of Chicago (UChicago) on Oct. 8, with researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Northwestern University, met to develop new ideas and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing water-related problems.
The “Trilateral Workshop on Water Challenges and Solutions” included researchers in engineering, chemistry, math, economics, geology, law, and astronomy. Developing new solutions to these problems requires an interdisciplinary approach, and more than three dozen researchers from a wide range of fields gathered to brainstorm potential collaborations.
In this new partnership, $720,000 of seed money provided by the three universities will be used to fund new ideas. The three institutions have collaborated on water research since 2013, when UChicago and BGU launched the Water Research Initiative with Argonne National Laboratory to find new methods of water production and purification. In 2017, another smaller, partnership was established between the Center for Water Research at Northwestern University and the Ben-Gurion University Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research
According to Prof. Noam Weisbrod, director of the BGU Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, “We are convinced that our collaborative research will lead to real breakthroughs in water sciences and technologies and assist in many pressing water-related challenges. Following the very successful and interesting workshop, teams from the three universities will work together to submit join proposals to tackle many of problems and new, out-of-the-box” ideas.”
“The three partner universities have an enormous amount of expertise related to water that we haven’t previously had the opportunity to link together,” said Prof. Aaron Packman, director of the Center for Water Research at Northwestern University. “This new collaborative program will enable us to draw on the best capabilities of our universities to improve water security in Israel, Chicago, and around the world.”
During the workshop, researchers assembled in groups to discuss water challenges related to climate, energy, policy, separation and purification, and basic science research. Potential projects included:
Using cell phone data to track how water is collected in developing countries
Harnessing solar power to fill wells
Developing membranes that remove only the harmful salt ions from water
Creating new kinds of membranes for water purification
Using condensation to develop self-cleaning solar panels
Distributing lead filters to communities that are at risk for lead exposure in water
The workshop offered seed money for the projects to “give us an opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done before,” said Jim Skinner, Crown Family Professor of Molecular Engineering and director of IME’s Water Research Initiative at UChicago.