Over 1.2 billion people around the globe don’t have access to potable water. Many of them live in the continent of Africa. So it should come as no surprise that a solution to this problem might come from an inventor who lives there.
Meet Dr. Eugene Cloete. A microbiologist by training, Cloete is currently the Dean of Natural Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch, just outside Cape Town, South Africa. In addition to his teaching ability, Dr. Cloete apparently has a knack for invention. With nine patents to his name, the first of which he earned at the age of 23, Eugene has adopted a way of thinking different than that of most peoples’. “[creativity is] like reading and writing,” said Cloete, “the more you use it, the better you get.”
With much of South Africa’s tap water riddled with disease-causing bacteria, heavy metals, and pesticide residue, something needed to be done. In short, Dr. Cloete has invented a disposable filter, which looks very similar to a tea bag, to filter water as it is poured from a bottle. Each filter is capable of ridding bacteria, heavy metals, and harmful chemicals from about 15 liters of water before it needs to be thrown away.
Cloete, an expert on inhibiting growth of bacterial slime, says he came up with the idea while on a faculty tour of his current department. He happened to notice a tea bag sitting on the break room counter when he started to explore the idea. It wasn’t until he watched a presentation at the university during which a student demonstrated how to spin nanofibers – filaments finer than human hair – that he figured out how to do it. He combined this technology with both that of the anti-bacterial membranes he had already been working on, and the traditional water filtration component activated carbon to yield the filter.
Since announcing the invention in July, Dr. Cloete and his team of two post-doctoral colleges have received hundreds of inquiries from excited philanthropists, aid organizations, and retailers. This little tea bag is sure to save lives.