Worldwide, 780 million people lack access to clean water, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. Armed with sheets of paper and an expert knowledge of nanoparticles, Teri Dankovich, a Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, is working to solve that problem with support from CEE students.

This summer, CEE student Angela Ng (BS ’16) traveled to Bangladesh to test Dankovich’s innovative technology called pAge Drinking Paper—thick pieces of paper embedded with silver and copper nanoparticles that are lethal to bacteria.

In a talk at the 250th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Dankovich presented results from these and other field trials showing that when you pour contaminated water through a sheet of pAge drinking paper, the paper removes over 99% of bacteria in the water. This simple process produces filtered water that is very similar to tap water consumed every day across the United States.

This is the type of work I want to do for the rest of my life—to create solutions that better communities around the world.

Angela Ng, Student, Civil and Enviornmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

This paper is perhaps best known as the technology behind the Drinkable Book, a collection of pAge drinking papers presented as a book. Each paper can be easily torn from the book, placed in a filter holder, and used to clean water whenever needed. As a whole, one Drinkable Book could provide its owner four years of clean drinking water.

“I had always wanted to work on the Drinkable Book project. It was actually the reason I chose my major,” explains Ng.

In Bangladesh, Ng and fellow team members worked with International Development Enterprises to create a design that would allow pAge drinking paper to filter water directly into jugs called kolshis, which are commonly used to collect water throughout the country.

Gathering information and water samples, the group travelled to cities and rural areas and asked people which designs they preferred and how they collected water. The team created and tested various models before identifying the most successful design, which Ng describes as similar to a coffee filter.

As part of her honors thesis, Ng is continuing her work with Dankovich. “There’s a lot more to discover—for example, figuring out the longevity of this new design and seeing if it doesn’t only kill bacteria but also key species like Giardia, Microsporidia, and other waterborne pathogens,” explains Ng.

When asked about her own future, Ng does not hesitate. “This is the type of work I want to do for the rest of my life—to create solutions that better communities around the world.”