Producing safe water for the world

Published:09 August 2018

Piumie Rajapaksha Pathirannahalage is a Research Higher Degree candidate in Applied Chemistry and Biology.

International student, Piumie Rajapaksha Pathirannahalage is a Research Higher Degree candidate in Applied Chemistry and Biology.

Originally from ‘Biyagama’, 20 km away from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, Piumie has developed a method that ensures water can be free from highly polluted toxins, chemicals and micro-organisms.

“I fabricate graphene oxide using graphite as the raw material. I then functionalise this material further to improve its water purification ability by hybridising the graphene oxide with zinc, copper and silver nanoparticles to increase the antimicrobial properties, surface area and adsorption properties to remove water pollutants.”

Piumie believes that graphene oxide is capable of combatting multiple water quality issues and producing safe drinking water, due to its unique chemical and physical properties.

“Accessing safe water has become a global issue. Water can become highly polluted around the world due to human-mediated activities. Unfortunately, the current efficient water treatment technologies are very expensive, especially for developing countries.

“Therefore, we need a low-cost, multifunctional and efficient water treatment method for water purification processes which can potentially purify water that is polluted with both chemical and biological pollutants.”

Although her parents have always encouraged and helped her to achieve her goals, it was the stories of science and novel scientific findings that have inspired Piumie to study science at postgraduate level.

“The science of water is exciting to me and has prompted my ambition to become a professional scientist focused on assuring safe drinking water is provided for all. My supervisor wants me to become an emerging world leader in wastewater remediation for the developing world,” she said.

“I have been able to optimise the material to generate 100 per cent antimicrobial efficiency in removing Escherichia coli bacteria that causes diarrhoea and I have now focused my attention on studying the antifungal efficiency of this material against Candida albicans fungal cells, which is another threat to human health with candidiasis disease.”

Piumie says that, in future, she plans to study this material with the aim of removing pesticides and heavy metals, which are also damaging to the environment and, more importantly, to public health.

“Hopefully, my work will be useful in the near future as a mechanism to supply safe drinking water to the developing countries.”