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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Because Gravity is Free: Buckeyes travel to Honduras to support sustainable water treatment

March 29, 2024
Students and faculty in Honduras to support sustainable water treatment

With over 2 billion people lacking safe water on tap (, providing access to clean water is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and was also identified as one of the fourteen Grand Challenges in Engineering for the 21st Century by the National Academy for Engineering. Providing access to clean water requires continual research and development to create more efficient, impactful, sustainable, and cost effective treatment processes. 

Over the last six years, an ecosystem at The Ohio State University has grown, focusing the delivery of clean drinking water using gravity powered water treatment plants. This collaborative effort spans research, experiential learning, and technical design courses at Ohio State, while leveraging partnerships with Agua Para el PuebloZamorano University, and Agua Clara Reach to supportrural communities throughout Honduras and Central America.  (Read more about Ohio State's partnership with AguaClara Reach here.)

TTeam looking over Honduran cityhe first iteration of this collaboration took place over spring break, as faculty and students travelled to Honduras to participate in the ENGR 5797.24 Engineering in Context – Sustainable Water Treatment: Honduras course. The program was led Patrick Sours and Cherish Vance, faculty members in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The course focuses on Engineering for Sustainable Development concepts related to water treatment and how access to safe and reliable water sources is influenced by environmental, social, and economic dimensions. Further, students explore how these pillars of sustainability, and their related values, can inform the delivery of water treatment systems globally.

To prepare, students engaged with project partners to plan project implementations, develop surveys and focus group protocols, and design data collection to take place during the visit. Students also learned about Honduran history, culture, and introductory Spanish. While in country, students visited both the AguaClara gravity-powered treatment plants and conventional treatment plants, engaged with peers at Zamorano University, supported the assembly of new treatment plant components, met with community members and water councils, and experienced Honduran culture.

Sours, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice in Engineering for Sustainable Development, first connected with AguaClara Reach in 2018 andTeam working on a water treatment plant has worked to build research and instructional content related to the AguaClara water treatment system within the Humanitarian Engineering Program. The program uses an interdisciplinary approach to leverage elements of engineering technical design, social sciences, and engineering education to prepare students to address complex global sustainability challenges. 

"We have been working to build this program since 2018 when I visited Zamorano University with Dr. Scott Shearer (Chair, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering) and toured their AguaClara water treatment facility, and it is a dream come true to see students take the theoretical and sociotechnical concepts they learned about gravity-powered water treatment within our courses and apply them through an experiential learning opportunity.” 

Team at indoor water treatment plantWithin the sphere of Engineering for Sustainable Development at OSU, students have opportunities to engage with program partners through undergraduate research, Humanitarian Engineering minor courses, community-based learning courses, and the Global Capstone Design Sequence. Vance currently instructs FABE 5260.02 Safe Water on Tap, a technical course that explores parametric design modeling of AguaClara treatment processes using Onshape. The instructional and research efforts of Sours and Vance allow students to have multiple points of engagement within this ecosystem. 

Incoming FABE graduate student Katie Vatke has been working on AguaClara research at OSU since 2021, and was recently awarded 3rd place at the Denman Research Forum for her efforts on rapid sand filtration.  Katie excitingly shared, “I have been passionate about clean water since I was 16 and joined the research lab as a 2nd year. Being able to visit the plants in person felt like the culmination of the time and energy that I have put in the research lab and classroom, and being able to see the context and impact of the treatment plants on the community partners has motivated me to continue to engage work a future where clean water is accessible to everyone.”

This successful first trip has laid the foundation for future collaborations in which Buckeye engineers will meaningfully contribute to research that develops effective water treatment processes and speeds the adoption and deployment of sustainable water treatment plants to deliver safe water on tap to underserved global communities. 

To support student experiential learning and Community Impact Projects visit Ohio State’s giving platform.




Efforts for the program were supported by the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering as well as a Center for Latin American Studies Curriculum Development Grant, an Office of Academic Affairs – Community Engaged Learning Grant and an Office of International Affairs Global Research Grant.