“The creek right next to my house is black,” remembered UCSB grad student Ning Jiang of her childhood in Tsing Tao, China, years before working to develop a better water filter for developing countries around the world. “There are no fish or living organisms….That made me want to do something about it.”

Jiang — who’s working toward a Ph.D. in environmental science and management with a focus in microbiology — launched a crowd-funding campaign to fund the research, development, and testing of a new filter for Safe Water International. In just one day, more than 80 percent of the required funds were raised, and she met her goal of $2,000 within three days.

Along with the developer Henk Holtslag of Connect International in the Netherlands, Jiang is testing the “silver-sand” filter, which Safe Water hopes to distribute to Third World countries to improve water quality across the globe. An upgraded biosand filter, the silver-sand filter is a large cylinder filled with about 20 gallons of sand and gravel. Dirty water is poured on top of the cylinder, where the top layer of sand generates a layer of “good” bacteria” to kill “bad” bacteria, and that’s followed by a section of silver — which has been used as a disinfectant since Roman times — to get rid of whatever bacteria remains.

“It is really exciting that I can apply what I study at school to really make a big difference,” said Jiang. “A lot of science is for curiosities sake, but it’s great that I can use my knowledge for a better purpose.”

Jiang’s project is part of a larger collaboration called the SciFund Challenge, an ongoing experiment that launched on May 1 to see if scientists can use crowdfunding to fund their research while allowing them to engage with the public. With 75 scientists participating from around the world, the SciFund Challenge generated $45,000 to pay for research in the first week alone. To date, nearly $75,000 has been raised total.

To learn more about the SciFund Challenge, see scifundchallenge.org.


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