Using a Makeshift Magnifying Glass to Purify Water

You know what’s really cool? Magnifying glasses. The other day, while procrastinating, I found myself watching a video entitled “Light a Fire with Your Pee.”

Basically, if you’re ever stranded in the desert, you’ve consumed all your water, and you have nothing to protect yourself from the bitterly cold night, you can use your pee and some saran wrap to make a magnifying glass … which can be used to start a fire!! I feel like most people already knew about magnifying glasses’ fire starting properties from their childhoods, but I never knew magnifying glasses could heat things up so much just by concentrating the sun’s power in a small place. For fellow readers who were also deprived as children, the smaller you make the bright, concentrated dot, the higher the temperature will be. Kindling will start to smolder when the dot reaches ~450ºF, which is apparently not at all hard to do.

One student from the University of Buffalo, named Deshawn Henry, started a really awesome project this summer, where he basically made a much larger scale version of the makeshift pee magnifying glass. His goal is to be able to implement this solar lens as an alternative to more expensive water purification solutions. His solar lens, which consists of a 6-foot wooden frame, a plastic sheet, and some water, is able to heat one liter of water to 130-150ºF in one hour! This is enough to kill 99.9% of pathogens found in contaminated water, rendering it drinkable. Amazing. Drinking contaminated water kills a child under the age of 5 every minute, so innovation in water purification technologies is in extremely high demand. He is still working on some logistics, since the frame’s position must be manually shifted as the sun changes position in the sky (i.e. the frame must be adjusted to maintain the optimal “dot” size or temperature). Also, the purification rate mentioned above is only enough to meet 1/3 of the needs of a family of five. Increasing the purification rate isn’t quite as simple as just adding more water to the plastic sheet. Adding more water, which would increase the power of the lens, would require a thicker plastic sheet to support it, and a thicker plastic sheet would diminish the effects of the stronger lens. Wishing him the best of luck in his endeavors, because this is a really cool idea that has the potential to reduce the costs of water purification in underdeveloped regions that need it.

Deshawn Henry working on his water purifying solar lens.


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One Comment Add yours

  1. Jie cao says:

    Wow, it’s an eye opening invention. My colleague who came from Africa and wanted to help improving his country’s drinking water quality by raise money from organization. This news sure brings hope to realize such dream in near future.

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