TAU researcher is looking to solve the world’s water crisis

Prof. Hadas Mamane said she wants to “change the world,” but she is not only doing it for the people she helps.

Prof. Hadas Mamane in India, 2019. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Hadas Mamane in India, 2019.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The head of the Water-Tech Laboratory at Tel Aviv University, Mamane is looking for new solutions to solve the world’s water crisis.
“One of the greatest challenges facing the world today is access to suitable drinking water,” Mamane told The Jerusalem Post. “Therefore, it is essential to acquire relevant knowledge to deal with this currently unresolved problem.”
For almost 15 years, Mamane has been researching dirty water, specifically in India, where she said statistics show that in some places 20% of children under the age of five become sick or die due to problems that are mostly environmental.
“The water is contaminated with bacteria and viruses and pathogens, and these biological agents can kill,” she said. “Without safe water, humanity cannot exist. Water is life.”
She said that in some areas, many of the water sources are contaminated to the point of undrinkable that people are thirsty.
Currently, Mamane and her team of students – the number varies by semester – are looking to find solutions that reduce energy and water consumption and be viable for use in developing and developed countries, depending on the goal.
Specifically, they are focused on solar-based solutions and the use of natural photons, radicals and nanoparticles and their ability to deactivate bacteria, control biological pollution and chemically oxidize the water to improve water quality for consumption and for agriculture.
She said she is exploring a remote controlled disinfection system and using LEDs for water disinfection, supported by the ministry of economics. Mamane and her colleagues just received a grant from the Environmental Protection Ministry to learn how to make ethanol – a replacement for gasoline – out of paper and agricultural waste and trimmings.
“Currently, biofuel is being made out of corn and sugarcane, which takes necessary food,” Mamane explained. “We are trying to take things that don’t have value and make them valuable.”
The lab is also working on a membrane which can be used for cleaning water by harnessing the power of the sun at low cost.
She said that her scientific arena combines engineering, social sciences and economics.
“We are trying to see how these innovative technologies we discover in our lab can be implemented in third-world countries on tight budgets and by people with limited skill sets,” Mamane said.
To ensure success, she and her students spend a lot of time in the field.
“To understand if you are developing the right technologies, you cannot only examine that technology in a lab, in a perfect setting,” she said. “We do field-based studies in developing countries. Students spent as much as half a year to one year in the field.”
“Our dream is to develop a new graduate program at TAU based on impact-based learning by placing our students in India to examine the ‘borders of technologies’ at complicated settings with innovative yet simple to operate and maintain environmental technologies that have an impact on the environment, on the technology, on social acceptance and on gender equality,” Mamane continued. “We want them to learn the impact of these technologies on water quality, agriculture, energy in the places they will be used.”
She herself just came back from sabbatical in southern India.
“My mission was to get dirty, to go into all the dirty canals and open dumps – to all the places you don’t want to be,” she told the Post.
“I wanted to smell it and to really submerge myself, to really get into the dirtiest places and critical places and see what is happening there.”
“Only when you know about a problem, feel it and get emotionally involved, you can think of a solution,” Mamane said. “We are about innovations for the sake of solving a problem and we learn about the problems by going there.”
Mamane said she also realizes that some of what her lab develops will have to be modified for communities in places like India, which operate at a different level than the Start-Up Nation.
“We have to be realistic and understand that to make an impact we need to have dispersion of technology and a way to teach people to use these technologies,” she said. “If I tackle the high-tech solution or only publish papers, even if they are in the best journals, they will not help people who suffer from lack of water. My goal is to implement viable solutions.”
She said she wants to “change the world,” but she is not only doing it for the people she helps.
“I am doing it for myself,” she said, “so I can sleep at night.”