Pratiksha Dongare, a fourth-year graduate student in applied physics at Rice University, flew to Washington, D.C. with her future packed in her check-in luggage.
In the bag was SNOWater, the solar-powered water-desalination device she and her research partner, Alessandro Alabastri, developed at Rice’s Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment Research Center. Alabastri is a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering at Rice, and they took part in the first-ever University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase at Washington, D.C. on November 13-14th.
Accompanying them was their industry mentor Andrew Treleaven, who graduated from Rice with an M.B.A. in 2013, and now is director of strategic marketing and innovation at Axip Energy Services in Houston.
The event was hosted by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Universities (in partnership with the National Academy of Inventors and VentureWell) in the Rayburn House Office Building. Twenty-two university-affiliated startups were invited to participate.
“We talked with academics and members of Congress and their staffs. They were very encouraging,” said Dongare, who visited the offices of U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and met in person with U.S. representatives for Texas Lamar Smith, Pete Olson, Ted Poe and Bill Flores.
SNOWater converts high-salinity and polluted water to freshwater, using solar energy for off-the-grid water purification. Dongare and Alabastri are at work scaling up the technology for domestic use. The device also has applications at oil and gas production sites where it would enable the reuse of high-salinity waters more economically and with less environmental impact.
Dongare and Alabastri were lead authors on “Nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation for off-grid water purification,” a paper detailing the SNOWater technology recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Dongare works in the lab of Naomi Halas, Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and director of the Smalley-Curl Institute and the Laboratory for Nanophotonics.
The research was funded, in part, by the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Initiative of the National Science Foundation.
“We are trying to increase the efficiency of the device to be able to purify water for a family from a high-saline or polluted water source. Just think of California. They are next to the ocean and yet they are having droughts. We think SNOWater could help in that situation,” Dongare said.