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Prof Helps Peruvians Live Better

By By Hiroko Sato, Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- In Manuel Heredia's eyes, a vertical black line drawn on an empty water bottle on his desk divides life from death.

Standing under florescent lights in a lab at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the solar engineering Ph.D. candidate holds the bottle toward the ceiling. One side of the bottle is translucent; the inside has a milky coating. The white substance is photocatalyst oxidizer, Heredia says. Fill the bottle with dirty water and put it under the sun. The solar rays will activate the oxidizer, which will break down bacteria, arsenic and all the bad stuff in the water into nontoxic components.

It's a fool-proof, low-cost water-purification method that John Duffy, professor of solar engineering at UMass Lowell, and his graduate students came up with to help those who live in the remote mountains of Peru. Duffy's team has installed solar-powered radio systems at clinics and hospitals in Huarmey, a town about 186 miles north of Lima, and surrounding communities that had no other means to communicate. Having solar-powered radio can prevent many deaths in the region. The photovoltaic panels they installed have provided lights at school and medical facilities, and their solar-pumping systems help villagers get water out of springs.

Read more about the Peru Project.