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Deshawn Henry, a sophomore civil engineering major, researched how to improve a 6-foot-tall water lens that uses sunlight to disinfect water.

Student’s water and solar-powered lens purifies polluted water


Published August 14, 2014

“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries.”
Deshawn Henry, sophomore
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Water may appear to be an abundant resource, but in some parts of the world clean water is hard to come by.

That could change through the work of Deshawn Henry, a sophomore civil engineering major, who researched how to improve a 6-foot-tall, self-sustaining magnifying glass.

Properly termed a water lens, the device uses another abundant resource — sunlight — to heat and disinfect polluted water. Since the frame for the lens can be constructed from commonly found materials — wood, plastic sheeting and water — the lens can be built for almost no cost, offering an inexpensive method to treat water.

The device may not look like much, but 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.

“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries,” says Henry, who performed the study under James Jensen, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

“Millions of people die every year from diseases and pathogens found in unclean water, and they can’t help it because that’s all they have. Either they drink it or they die.”

Deshawn Henry uses his device, made of wood, plastic sheeting and water, to disinfect water.

The lens 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. Due to the sun’s movement throughout the day, Henry needs to repeatedly shift the container to match the focal point.

Henry’s research tested how altering the thickness of the plastic sheet and the volume of water over the sheet affected the efficiency of the lens. The device was tested with plastic sheets that were 0.7, 1 and 2 millimeters thick, and water volumes of four, six and eight liters.

The study found that adding more water to the lens improved efficiency, as larger areas of water transmitted more energy from sunlight. However, thicker plastic sheets consumed more energy from light, lowering the lens’ efficiency.

A plastic sheet that was too thin or excessive amounts of water could break the lens. Henry concluded that the 0.7-millimeter sheet could efficiently heat the container while supporting eight liters of water, but any more and the sheet could potentially break.

With 1.1 billion people lacking access to clean drinking water, Henry’s work could make a difference in the world, says Jensen, who frequently mentors undergraduate students during summer research programs.

Henry studied under Jensen through the UB Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which connects underrepresented students with research opportunities in STEM fields. LSAMP is one of many programs in the Office of Undergraduate Education focused on increasing experiential-learning opportunities for students.

“I have seen how intense research activities can inspire UB students and educate the next generation of innovators,” says Jensen. “Deshawn’s work would allow a family in sunny regions to treat drinking water without having to expend energy or rely on imported technologies.”

Building a larger water lens that remains efficient is the next step in Henry’s research. A family of five would need a lens at least three times the size of the device he constructed, which was designed to heat one liter of water at a time, says Henry.


Congrats Deshawn Henry and Professor Jensen! What a wonderful solution to a problem that takes hundreds of lives every second. I wish you much success in its implementation.


Jeff Freeman

This is a God-given piece of work. Deshawn Henry, you are a force to be reckoned with. Continue to put your innovative ideas to production and change the lives of the less fortunate who are suffering around the world. I know that with the support of your professor James Jensen, your mom and dad, and with God as guide, your work will change the lives of millions.


Cleopatra Henry-Reid

Congratulations on your invention. This is your reward for hard work.


Artel Morgan

Congratulations Mr. D. Henry. May God bless you. As a civil engineering contractor in India, I can understand the need for this purifier. It will be a great success story in the future.


George Joseph Rubinson

A good piece of work and innovation. This purifying method is revolutionary because poor counties in Africa and other parts of the world would be saved form some water-borne diseases. Can this work be commercialized? I hear that it cost little to be put together.


I congratulate Mr. D. Henry and the University at Buffalo for this pioneering work.


Isaac Akinwale

This is the best news I've read in a long time!


May I say, this is the first time I've ever logged onto any website regarding UB and I see this beautiful, brillant, young man! This is indeed a genius idea and my congratulations go out to Deshawn Henry and his mentor, Mr. Jensen!


I am a Haitian-American from Bushwick, Brooklyn, N.Y. I attended the UB School of Medicine, class of 1986. I'm a retired USAF officer and Indian Health Service worker with the Public Heath Department.


How may I serve?


I am part of a medical mission of five doctors who have a passion and love for the Haitian people.


Please contact me should you wish to discuss implementing this as a pilot project in Beraderes, Haiti.


I wish you well and I will be following your career. God be with you.


Jessie Jean-Rush, MD