Climate change and the world water crisis: UChicago researchers create essential text on next-generation water technology

Water is everything—essential to industry, agriculture, and life itself. In our age, however, this critical and once ubiquitous resource has become progressively more sparse and more contaminated.

To address the mounting crisis, leading researchers from around the planet are forging new technologies for water treatment, sensing, reclamation, and management. Now, their work is compiled into a single text, establishing the scientific scaffold for a water-secure future and a guide to those passionate about water research.

The World Scientific Reference of Water Science broaches a broad spectrum of topics such as state-of-the-art water sensing, surface acoustic-wave technologies, emerging nanotechnology-based water treatment research, and recent advances in water desalination.

“Many places around the world are experiencing water scarcity,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and editor-in-chief of the multi-volume work. “Climate change combined with our growing global economy are key drivers responsible for expanding the water crisis to many parts of our world. We need cost-effective sensors and energy-efficient water treatment technologies to enable a higher rate of water reuse, more intelligent fit-for-purpose water systems, and thus a more sustainable future."

The World Scientific Reference of Water Science
The World Scientific Reference of Water Science (Courtesy of World Scientific)

A first-of-its-kind text, The World Scientific Reference of Water Science, was created to establish an authoritative resource for any reader interested in water science—students, current researchers, policymakers, and those directly engaged in water management.

The project was led and edited by Tirrell; Junhong Chen, Crown Family Professor of Molecular Engineering who also serves as lead water strategist at Argonne National Laboratory; and Yoram Cohen, distinguished professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Samueli School of Engineering.

“Developing a diversified water portfolio is critical to meet the current and future water needs across the globe,” said Cohen. “In this regard, membrane-based technologies are central for purification and desalination for the development of new water supplies from municipal and industrial wastewater streams, impaired groundwater resources and seawater. Thus, in this book series we provide researchers, industry and water agency professionals, as well as students, with detailed accounts of the latest advances in fundamental and practical aspects of membrane materials, process systems, as well as associated energy and environmental considerations.”

The text also offers insight into the growing convergence of artificial intelligence and water research, an area that’s expected to drive major innovations in the field. PME itself is home to AI-enabled Molecular Engineering of Materials and Systems for Sustainability (AIMEMS), a unique program that trains graduate students how to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning towards the development of sustainable technologies.

“The vision we share is of an expansive, intelligent water system,” said Chen. “We need sensors that can effectively monitor water quality and quantity. We need innovative ways to remove contaminants and recover resources from our wastewater. But more than anything, we need engaged, enthusiastic students ready to become future leaders in water technology. That’s why we’ve created these books.”

Pritzker Molecular Engineering and its partner institution Argonne National Laboratory are leaders in advanced water research, developing a broad range of materials and systems from the molecular level up, including oil-absorbing sponges, wireless sensor networks, water-from-air metal-organic frameworks, hybrid nanomaterials, and biomimetic materials for water purification.

Contributions to the three-volume set come from leading experts in water sensing and water treatment from around the world, including USA, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Hongkong, India, Israel, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, and UAE.

The text can be accessed here.