The Water Issue

Focus on Materials: The Water Issue

Letter from the Director

Our society, and indeed our existence, depend on water for survival. As civilization developed, communities built close to rivers where there was a ready supply of clean drinking water. As our population increases, and along with it our agriculture and manufacturing, the stewardship of water is critical for health, security, and the continued development of our society.

The fragility of the water supply is always apparent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In countries with poor infrastructure and drought, women and children can spend five hours a day walking to secure water. After earthquakes, getting clean water to affected regions is always a priority. Here in the USA, according to the EPA, 41 states have unsafe levels of lead in the water supply. We frequently hear of the results of poor infrastructure investment and bad management, such as was exposed in Flint, Michigan. Drought has challenged water supplies in states from California to Connecticut. Casey Dinges, senior managing director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, points to the financial cost of poor water infrastructure, risking GDP of $400 billion and 700,000 jobs by 2020.

Our Penn State faculty are engaged with many of these global challenges. In this issue of Focus on Materials, we highlight a number of examples of faculty addressing water-cleaning solutions through materials. These can range from fracking water remediation to nuclear and chemical water contamination to oil spill cleanup, as well as new nature-inspired filtration approaches.

Stewardship of our natural resources is an important part of the Penn State strategic plan. MRI partners with other stakeholders in the University to maximize impact in this area, and without a doubt, our faculty have many creative approaches to address the management and supply of clean water in the modern world.

The tragedy of a time where there is “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink” must not be accepted for anyone, anywhere on the globe, today or in the future. This is a goal that is achievable and worthy of our commitment both for our students and our
faculty, and indeed, for all of society.

Clive Randall
Director of the Materials Research Institute
and professor of materials science and engineering

Fall 2016