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Science and technology for water purification in the coming decades


One of the most pervasive problems afflicting people throughout the world is inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Problems with water are expected to grow worse in the coming decades, with water scarcity occurring globally, even in regions currently considered water-rich. Addressing these problems calls out for a tremendous amount of research to be conducted to identify robust new methods of purifying water at lower cost and with less energy, while at the same time minimizing the use of chemicals and impact on the environment. Here we highlight some of the science and technology being developed to improve the disinfection and decontamination of water, as well as efforts to increase water supplies through the safe re-use of wastewater and efficient desalination of sea and brackish water.

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Figure 1: Waterborne virus attachment head and receptor on host cell.
Figure 2: Lead DNA sensor with a micro-nanofluidic device.
Figure 3: Membrane bioreactor treatment system for direct conversion to potable water.
Figure 4: Comb copolymer amphiphiles for fouling-resistant membranes.
Figure 5: Reverse osmosis and active desalination membrane processes.


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We acknowledge the US National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, WaterCAMPWS, Center for Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems.

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Correspondence to Mark A. Shannon.

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Shannon, M., Bohn, P., Elimelech, M. et al. Science and technology for water purification in the coming decades. Nature 452, 301–310 (2008).

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