By: Kelsey Roberts
Once known as the “Graveyard of the West,” Louisville has redeemed its 19th century reputation for waterborne illness to become a breeding ground for safe water technology and innovation.
On November 8, 2014, WaterStep held Hack20 Water Hackathon, a new event that convened Louisville’s bright minds and willing hands to prototype solutions for a global water problem. By midmorning, students, engineers, humanitarians and idealists had formed teams that would devise solutions to improve drinking water in developing countries.
Steve Keiber joined the approximately 40 individuals who contributed to Hack20 Water Hackathon. Keiber said, “Something might help somebody out there somewhere, make life a little easier for someone.”
Andrew Cozzens, a participant and employee at FirstBuild which hosted the event, agreed with his teammate. This optimism led both Keiber and Cozzens to devote a Saturday constructing a brake for the WaterBall, which helps women and children transport water in a more efficient way.
Other projects included a titanium dioxide/solar energy filtration unit, a method to remove arsenic from Costa Rica’s drinking water, an alternative transport for WaterStep’s M-100 chlorine generator, a portable laboratory to manufacture disinfecting sodium hypochlorite (bleach) and a wireless device that alerts when water hand pumps malfunction.
James Armstrong, a design engineer at GE Appliances, worked on the alert system for malfunctioning hand pumps. In addition to being a professional tinker, Armstrong has installed a few M-100 chlorine generators in Ethiopian schools and orphanages. He is unlikely to forget why potable water technology is imperative. Armstrong and his wife adopted a son from Ethiopia who suffered from water dwelling giardia parasites that cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating and weight loss.
Also unlikely to forget the importance of investing in safe water technology is Sam DuPlessis Jr. DuPlessis, also working on the hand pump alert system, chose to spend his 18th birthday at Hack20 Water Hackathon with his father and 11-year-old brother. The DuPlessis family knows that unsafe water and poor sanitation are serious issues for the developing world. Equally as important, the DuPlessis family understands new technology can be a key part of the solution.
“It’s about people helping other people around the world,” said DuPlessis, who gladly supported WaterStep and its beneficiaries on a day he could celebrate with friends.
Meanwhile, Juan He, Ph.D., a post-doctoral associate at the University of Louisville Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, contributed her professional knowledge to the titanium dioxide/solar energy filtration project. Like others in her group, He wanted to know if water purification was possible without using WaterStep’s traditional chlorine generator. She hoped scientific observation and mathematical equations could result in a cost effective tool for the developing world. He’s decision to address WaterStep beneficiaries as “developing” countries instead of “undeveloped” countries shows she believes progress for third world nations is possible. Just like WaterStep and those who support its mission, He believes global access to safe water could be one step closer thanks to a room full of students, engineers, humanitarians and idealists.
Hack2O was not simply a one-day event. The effects of the ideas and innovation from the day will stretch for years to come. A few key results from the event include:

  • WaterStep can fast track adding a brake to the WaterBall for safety.
  • The possibility of using less energy to purify water with WaterStep’s M-100 chlorine generator.
  • Ideas for using common materials in the developing world to transport water more easily.
  • Defining possibilities for people in an area of Costa Rica to take arsenic out of their water.

Special Thanks to:
The FirstBuild Team
Mary Beckman, Taylor Dawson and Randy Reeves
Dr. Thad Druffel, University of Louisville, Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research.
Juan Emmanuel Afable, MSD
Elliot Bauer, LG&E
Kevin Nolan, GE
Ted Smith, Metro Louisville
Dr. Mickey Wilhelm, J.B. Speed School
Sunergos Coffee
Phil Back for graphic design
WaterStep Prep Team Kurtis Daniels and Joe Jacobi

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