The competition was tough: 19 junior researcher teams from the USA, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, Poland, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan pitched their innovative ideas against each other during the iCAN 15 contest held in Anchorage, Alaska. The result was a sensational victory for five University of Bremen students of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology: Their invention took first prize in the category “International Contest of Applications in Nano-micro Technology“.
“Scipio”, Latin for stick, is the name they gave to a small innovative instrument for measuring the quality of water. The clever little device is intended for use in developing countries. It has been designed to be small enough to fit into a PET bottle. Scipio, short for “Scientific Purification Indicator”, shows whether water is safe to drink. The idea was thought up by TheodorHillebrand, a Master’s student of Electrical Engineering at the University of Bremen. Through his interest in the German Agency for Technical Relief he learned about a simple method used in developing countries for purifying drinking water: the so-called SODIS technique (Solar Water Disinfection).
Using Scipio is child’s play
Contaminated water is filled into transparent PET bottles and left in the hot sun for a period of at least six hours. This is the time it takes for the sun’s ultra-violet rays to kill off any germs it may contain. But how do you know exactly when the water is really ready to drink? This was the task Hillebrand set himself. He found a team of willing helpers in Yannick Auth, David Horch, Maike Taddiken and Konstantin Tscherkaschin. Working in their spare time, the team spent the best part of a year researching the components for a tube small enough to fit into a PET bottle. Powered by flexible solar cells made of amphorous silicon, Scipio is completely self-sufficient. It has an integrated position sensor to ensure the bottle is correctly shaken and laid in the right position. The tiny cylindrical device measures the quality of the water as well as its temperature and the intensity of the ultra-violet rays it is exposed to. It even calculates the correct time needed to purify the water. With a view to making the device especially user-friendly, the students paid special attention to the display. “It uses simple pilot programs to show the measurement results”, says Maike Taddiken. “It can even be used by children”.
Prizes, supporters and sponsors
From the beginning the innovative product has received a great deal of attention. In 2014 they took first prize in COSIMA (Competition of Students in Microsystems Applications); earlier in 2015 they won a major prize awarded by the engineering firm Ferchau; and since they invented the device they have received support from numerous sponsors and well-wishers. They are now excitedly looking forward to the product being launched. It will cost no more than ten dollars. As Yannick Auth points out, “We wanted to produce something more than just a gadget: Something that would be really useful for people”.