Published January 29, 2015
National television cameras came to campus last semester to focus attention on a UB innovation that is attracting worldwide interest.
The water lens — essentially a 6-foot-tall, self-sustaining magnifying glass that uses sunlight to heat and disinfect water — drew the attention of “Innovation Nation,” a new CBS show that began airing nationwide in the fall. The UB segment is slated to air across the country starting on Feb. 7, including at 10 a.m. that day on local affiliate WIVB-TV, Channel 4.
The show, hosted by CBS News correspondent Mo Rocca and produced with the Henry Ford Museum, shares the stories behind the world’s greatest inventions and highlights the innovative new work of researchers, inventors and visionaries.
“Innovation Nation” sends correspondents to “every corner of America in search of fascinating men and women who are about to change the world.”
The masterminds behind the UB water lens project are James Jensen, professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, and his students, including Deshawn Henry, a sophomore civil engineering major who, with Jensen, was interviewed by CBS.
“It’s been heartening to represent UB in such a positive way,” says Jensen. “I hope these ‘15 minutes of fame’ help shine a light on an important global health problem and the work done at UB to help others.”
The water lens is constructed from commonly found materials — wood, plastic sheeting and water — and aims to offer an inexpensive method to treat water.
The design consists of a plastic sheet covered with water supported by a wooden frame. The frame holds a small container of water below the lens in line with a focal point created from a concentrated ray of sunlight. Barring the weather, once assembled, the lens functions freely.
The device may not look like much, but according to Jensen, it can heat a liter of water to between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit in a little more than an hour, destroying 99.9 percent of bacteria and pathogens.
With 1.1 billion people lacking access to clean drinking water, the continued development of the water lens could make a difference in the world.
Jensen and his students are experimenting with replacing direct sunlight with heating lamps in the laboratory to study the lens during winter months or bouts of unsuitable weather.
The lamps will mimic the solar spectrum of the sun, but present new challenges. The light needs to generate enough heat to boil water, but placing the lamp too close to the plastic sheet could melt the lens, Jensen says.