Manisha Patel loves research. And that passion has translated into developing a portable water filter that she hopes will help countries with severe water contamination.

“I chose to focus on water because when I was reading and learning about it, it kept coming up over and over again about water being the rarest resource in the world,” she said. “So, I knew I wanted to stay somewhere in there.”

Patel designed a portable water filter called ‘Clear Blue’ to help with the global water crisis.

“I wanted to make it portable, because for the majority of developing communities worldwide, their main water source is a river or lake that requires travel to and from, sometimes long distances,” she said. “Whether you’re hiking up north or you’re in a developing nation, if your only water source is a well, a river or a lake, you need something handy that’s lightweight that you can take around with you at all times, that also filters out most bacteria, metals, dirt and other contaminants. So, that’s where that idea came from.”

Patel said she wanted to create something that not only is portable and effective, but that can be made cheaply and easily, and, ultimately, distributed to communities worldwide.

Manisha Patel, Katy junior, demonstrates the water filter she has developed in the lab in the Engineering Building.

Manisha Patel, Katy junior, demonstrates the water filter she has developed in the lab in the Engineering Building.

Currently, Patel’s portable water filter design is in prototype. It’s a nine-inch cylinder with a mouthpiece on one end and a water retrieval vent on the other end with the filter in the middle.

“For the inner filter, there are two stages,” she said. “One is the bio-sand filter, which is more of a simple, traditional filter made of finite-sized gravel and sand, and that gets rid of 99 percent of bacteria, parasites and dirt. The second part of the filter is called activated alumina. Those are basically white, solid circles that get rid of all arsenic metals.”

Her choice for using activated alumina in the second stage, she said, was based on her research that revealed arsenic as the most common metal in drinking water.

“The biggest places those metals are found in water are in China and India,” she said.

Patel said the hardest part of making the filter was making the exterior.

“I had the materials (for the inner filters) — the activated alumina, the sand and the gravel — but the question then became, ‘How am I going to make a shell for it all, something to hold it?’” she said.

Patel opted for 3D printing the outer shell of the filter.

“3D printing is up and coming. Lots of companies are starting to use it for everything from medical to environmental uses,” she said. “The entire exterior of this filter is composed of 3D printing material, which is made by PVP plastic. So, it’s not only lightweight, portable and durable, but it keeps its shape in most climates.”

Patel said that going into production would be the ultimate goal, but it could take six months to a year, maybe longer, to do all of the field testing.

“Our first step was just to make the filter,” she said. “The thing that we have left is a lot of field testing. It’s an extension of the research. We’ve got to make sure this thing works, and the only sample of water that I’ve picked up so far was in a stream in Katy.”

This week Patel will put her first sample through a machine, which will allow her to see the contaminants.

“Now, it’s getting contaminated water, maybe even water that has actual arsenic and metals in it, and making sure that the filter works,” she said.

Patel said that eventually she hopes to get her filter patented, and into the hands of people who need it.

“Ideally, we would want to do mass production,” she said. “I don’t know how much funding I could get to basically give these out to people, but maybe some charity would be able to do that. But, that’s the future goal, which I haven’t spent too much time thinking about because we still have a lot of barriers to cross first. Until then, I’ll be putting in a lot of time and effort, and getting expertise from professors.”

Patel has presented her research at three conferences this month, including the Clinton Global Initiative University conference at UC Berkeley, the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at University of North Carolina and the Lamar Expo.

“The entire month of April was crazy-busy,” she said. “The first weekend was the CGI conference. My presentation at CGI was a booth, so it wasn’t as nerve-racking because I actually had things to share with them. I brought brochures, fliers and a video that I made to educate the students.”

Patel answered questions about her research and made connections with fellow undergraduates who shared her interest in environmental innovations.

At NCUR, Patel said she got positive feedback and challenging questions when she did her PowerPoint presentation of her research.

“This was actually my first oral presentation where I had to go up and present exactly what I’m doing,” she said. “I was very nervous. The thing I was most surprised by was there were several chemistry professors that attended that specific event. It was nerve-racking because I wasn’t sure what they were going to think of my ideas because they come with expertise far beyond my reach.”

Patel said her experience at the Lamar Expo was her favorite presentation because it was on her home campus, and she presented to her own professors and fellow Cardinals.

“It went really well,” she said. “I love this university and I’m so thankful for coming here. Everything that’s come to be with this school and my experience here is wonderful.”

Patel said, as well as the support she has received from her mentor, Evan Wujcik, the College of Engineering and the Office of Undergraduate Research, she is grateful for all of the positive feedback she has received. She said it has helped her see and solve possible problems with her design.

“I have a mental list of everything that can go wrong with this filter,” she said. “But, the feedback I’ve gotten at the conferences is invaluable. I think that’s one of the great things about conferences, because at the end of the day it’s all about sharing your idea and getting a response, and that’s an opportunity I was very grateful to have.”

Patel is slated for graduation next year and hopes to continue her research in graduate school.

“I feel like undergraduate research is such a big part of my life at Lamar now,” she said. “I have made a lot of friends who have the same research interests as me and I’ve collaborated with lots of classmates. There are other aspects of Lamar I am involved with, but research on its own — especially the last year — has been a big part of my experience and life at Lamar, and I really like that.”

Story and photo by

Brandianne Hinton

UP staff writer

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