Natchez native engineer cleans water for Africa
NATCHEZ — When villagers in Togo, Africa, are able to clean and purify their dirty drinking water, Joanna David’s goal to help the world will be closer to being complete.
The Natchez native and recent University of Mississippi engineering graduate completed undergraduate research on drinking water treatment through an electricity-free, solar disinfection method.
“I began to see the chemical implementation that was involved in water treatment and began to design a water treatment system that would be used in a tribe in Africa,” David said. “With that project, I was able to see engineering as much more than just crunching numbers and see that your decisions can change so many people’s lives.”
The project, David said, was part of her undergraduate thesis, which was a graduation requirement in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
“Myself and a partner who was in civil engineering combined together and worked on the project for two years,” David said. “The project was a continuation of a professor’s master’s degree work, so she had the vision and my partner and I worked to determine the actual configuration.”
Solar water disinfection of water in plastic bottles is a type of portable water purification that uses solar energy to make contaminated water safe to drink by eliminating bacteria or viruses. The project that David worked to develop was a larger, community-scale solar disinfection system that serves as an alternative to the individual-bottle system.
David’s work examined the effect of a plastic cover that covered the water treatment tank to help disinfect bacteria in the tank.
“The idea is you put dirty water in it and figure out how many hours it needs to be in the tank for it to be clean,” David said. “We needed to figure out some sort of covering to put on it to optimize the time.
“There are other things to consider like what color specifically to paint the system because white will reflect the (ultraviolet light), but black will absorb it and make it hotter.”
In order to create an environment with similar conditions the system would face in Africa, David said her team did all their research on the roof of a campus building.
“We would climb out of a window with giant bottles of water and go run tests,” David said. “In addition to the coursework, it was a huge time commitment, but it was also so rewarding.”
David, a 2008 Cathedral School graduate, said she initially had difficultly choosing which avenue of engineering in which to major.
“I jumped around the engineering school a bit until I wound up in chemical engineering,” David said. “I knew engineering was something I was interested in and wanted to do, but I just couldn’t find which avenue that was most compatible with my skill set.”
After she began working on the water treatment project, David said she knew she had made the right choice.
“As engineers, you literally shape the world around you, and you can’t touch something without being influenced by an engineer’s role,” David said. “Through my studies at Ole Miss, I have learned that even the small tasks you do in your efforts to complete a project can have an immense impact on the world around you.”
David served as the engineering student body president, was chosen for the engineering school’s annual senior leadership award and was involved in community service organizations such as Engineers Without Borders and Living Waters for the World.
David completed a summer internship for Mississippi River Pulp and currently works as a contact engineer for ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge.
David is the daughter of Jerry and Joan David.