International technology partnership to focus on water problems

The University of Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have signed an agreement to begin exploring a research partnership that would create new water production and purification technologies for deployment in regions of the globe where fresh water resources are scarce.

Signing a memorandum of understanding in Chicago on March 8 were University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Ben-Gurion President Rivka Carmi.

“Increasing both the quantity and quality of water is one of the major engineering challenges of the 21st century,” Zimmer said. “A collaborative research and technology center based in both Chicago and Be'er Sheva focusing on the molecular aspects of water science and technology will result in a powerful new approach for addressing the various and pervasive challenges to the global water supply.”

Carmi noted that BGU was founded by an Israeli government mandate to spearhead the development of the Negev desert. “BGU has been at the forefront of advanced basic and applied water-related research for more than four decades and has developed a number of innovative technologies in the field,” Carmi said. “The collaboration with UChicago will result in the development of new technologies for the benefit of people all over the world.”

Leading the Chicago side of the collaboration will be Matthew Tirrell, the Pritzker Director of UChicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering. Tirrell’s team will include scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, which UChicago manages for the U.S. Department of Energy. Leading the Israeli side will be Moshe Gottlieb, BGU’s Frankel Professor of Chemical Engineering.

“Water is the most fundamental molecule for sustaining all forms of life, but it is in dramatically short supply in many parts of the world,” Tirrell said. “Water in all parts of the world faces numerous threats, which in turn endanger human and economic health.”

The dangers include increased demand driven by energy production, agricultural runoff, depletion and contamination of aquifers by salt water, and by industrial, organic and biological toxins.

“Such large-scale problems must be met by solutions developed from a comprehensive and integrated science and technology base of the type we will establish between the University of Chicago and Ben-Gurion University,” Tirrell said.

“In this collaboration we intend to take advantage of the great strides achieved over the last decade in nanotechnology, materials science, biology and chemistry at both institutions, and the world-class facilities available at Argonne National Laboratory,” Gottlieb stressed. “These new tools and insights afford a molecular-level approach to tackle an age-old human plight.”

UChicago and BGU researchers will meet next month in Be'er Sheva to begin discussing interdisciplinary, collaborative water-related research projects of technical and societal significance.

Joint activities may include the exchange of visiting faculty members, researchers and students; the development of funding proposals for collaborative work; and the creation of innovative commercial technologies and new business ventures.

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Photos

Robert Zimmer and Matthew Tirrell

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer (left) talks with Matthew Tirrell, UChicago's Pritzker Director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering. Tirrell will lead the Chicago side of an exploratory research partnership in water resources technology with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Photo by Jason Smith

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