Aussie universities join IBM's clean water research program

Wednesday, 08 September, 2010

University of Sydney and Monash University will work with China’s Tsinghua University and global academics to improve water quality.

IBM's World Community Grid, a voluntary, worldwide network of PCs, has announced a series of projects aimed at producing cleaner and safer water, an increasingly scarce global commodity eluding at least 1.2 billion people worldwide. Working with researchers from all over the world, including Australia’s University of Sydney and Monash University, the ‘Computing For Clean Water’ project at China’s Tsinghua University aims to produce more efficient and effective water filtering techniques.

Utilising the World Community Grid will enable complex research to be completed much quicker and more cost effectively than if conventional power systems were used. IBM’s World Community Grid harnesses unused and donated power from over 1.5 million individual PCs from around the world whose computers perform calculations for scientists when these machines would otherwise be underutilised.

Computing for Clean Water focuses on scrubbing polluted water, as well as converting saltwater into drinkable freshwater, with less expense, complexity and energy than current techniques.

A new technique aimed at improving water quality uses molecular-scale tubes made of graphitic carbon. “The small pores on the tubes keep unwanted organic molecules from passing through them - including salt. In order to get liquids to pass through the small pores, scientists currently need to use extreme high pressure to get liquids to pass through these really small pores,” says Dr Luming Shen, Senior Lecturer, School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney.

The IBM-supported World Community Grid - equivalent to one of the world's fastest supercomputers - will enable the researchers to perform online simulations and pose hypothetical scenarios to solve these difficult problems. Anyone can donate their unused computer time, enabling scientists to use the World Community Grid for different projects such as engineering cleaner energy, curing disease and producing healthier food staples.

“When the first phase is completed, we hope to gain new insight into how nanotubes of a certain diameter produce the most efficient flow,” says Dr Zhe Liu, Lecturer from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who is leading the computational materials and mechanics research group at Monash University.

“This information will be fed back to researchers making the materials. Future phases of the project will study in more detail how effectively different types of contaminant molecules are blocked by the nanotubes, as well as the filtering effect of the tubes on dissolved salt. At the end of the day, our aim is to find more efficient and inexpensive methods of providing clean water around the world.”

IBM has donated the server hardware, software, technical services and expertise to build the infrastructure for World Community Grid and provides free hosting, maintenance and support.

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