Portable Water Purifier ‘Blue Life’ Wins Imagineering Competition

Sophomore Justin Fiaschetti grabs top prize

By Liz Sheeley

Clean water can be hard to come by in parts of the world where advanced plumbing systems with water filters aren’t common. One past solution has been to use ultraviolet light, and now with the increased capability of LEDs to provide a UV light source, this option has become safe, affordable, easy to implement in households and potentially portable. Sophomore Justin Fiaschetti (ME), the 2019 student winner of the Imagineering Competition, hopes to use the UV-light capability to kill bacteria to turn unsafe water into a clean and safe option.

The Imagineering Competition invites undergraduates to submit extracurricular projects that showcase their creativity and entrepreneurial capabilities for a chance to win cash prizes and develop their project further. The winning project this year is called Blue Life, a portable, hand-crank-powered water purifier that uses UVc LED lights to purify water. He came up with the idea after traveling to Kenya, where access to clean water can be a problem especially for some nomadic tribes.

“I think the committee liked that I took an experience that I had and applied it to engineering rather than trying to fit an idea to a problem,” says Fiaschetti. “This purifier will be fully sustainable and fully independent by using the reliability of LEDs to purify the water.”

The solutions to provide clean water to those living or traveling in low-resource areas has mostly been portable water filters that need to be replaced every few months or require regular maintenance, or chemical purification that can be harmful to the environment.

The hand crank seen in the back turns a set of gears that powers a small motor whose power is transferred to electricity and the UVc LEDs. Photo courtesy of Justin Fiaschetti
The water runs through the clear tube, the LED lights are blue lights that show proof-of-concept for developing the purifier with UVc LEDs. Photo courtesy of Justin Fiaschetti

Before UVc LED bulbs were manufactured, the only way to get a UV light was from a mercury bulb, which is dangerous to humans and the environment, and needs to be handled carefully. LED bulbs are more versatile and allowed Fiaschetti to create a purification system with the lights inside of a tube that the water would pass through to get clean.

“Earlier this year when I was taking a fluid dynamics class, I took a study break and walked along the esplanade,” says Fiaschetti. “During that break I had this idea of generating power from water pressure, but it wasn’t fully formed yet. Although the prototype I eventually built of Blue Life doesn’t work off of a water pressure differential that initial spark gave me the idea, and then through trial and error I was able to come up with a proof-of-concept prototype.”

As the winner, Fiaschetti will receive a $3,000 grant for product development, assistance with patent filing and intellectual property, an invitation to serve on the competition committee next year and marketing analysis consultation.

Fiaschetti says he’s grateful that the College puts on the Imagineering Competition every year and that he looks forward to it. Last year he entered and won the Best in Class prize as a first-year student for his design of a collapsible longboard.

The second place prize went to Adin Field (ME), a junior, who presented a cellular-connected refrigerator monitor. The device sits in a fridge and uses SMS to alert owners if the temperature of the fridge has gone down below safety standard levels. His prize is $1,500 along with assistance in patent submission and marketing analysis consultation.

The committee then awarded four Best in Class prizes of $500 each. The first-year student prize went to Peter Siegel (ME) for his non-rigid airborne wind turbine. Sadie Allen (ECE) and Constantinos Gerontis (ECE) won Best in Class for sophomores – they designed a smart, linkable organization system called Modulo. Kaihui Gou (ECE), Kang Tai (ECE) and Andrea Cheng (ECE) were awarded the junior prize for their remote control assistance robot.

Nikunj Khetan (ME) took home the senior prize for his quadcopter drone that would work in collaboration with his senior design project, RiverSonde that maps water pollution.

The Imagineering Competition is supported by John Maccarone (ENG ’66).