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Engineering Abroad: Bolivia

February 11, 2015

All suited up for processing samples in the lab in Santa Cruz, Bolivia! From left to right: Sofia Sotelo Ortiz, myself, and Ian McLarney

About Me 

Kelli Lynch is a third year Mechanical Engineering student with an interest in biomedical product development. Kelli grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she spent her time on science fairs, speech and debates, skiing, and flying in her family’s Cessna. While she loves Boston, Kelli always misses the mountains and blue skies back home! At Northeastern, Kelli is a Residents Assistant, a Husky Ambassador, a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and a member of the No Limits Dance Crew.

Engineering Abroad 

Water Purification in Bolivia

Upon learning that 1.4 million people die each year from a lack of clean drinking water, I set about searching for a solution. The development of an ultraviolet water purifier took over three years and included five different prototypes during high school. The current purifier holds 4.2 liters, has a processing time of twenty minutes, and utilizes on a 22 watt UV-C bulb that is powered by a solar panel charged battery. The system is simple, and easy to use: contaminated water is poured in the top, the bulb is turned on for twenty minutes, and the purified water is removed through a valve at the bottom of the device. The prototyped purifiers have all been tested with E. coli and B. subtilis in labs. After proving effective at eliminating lab strain bacteria, it became necessary to test in the field.

Taking water samples out in the field

Thanks to a grant from Northeastern University, a team of three of us, Sofia Sotelo Ortiz, myself, and Ian McLarney, traveled to Bolivia to collect water samples from small communities with known water and sanitation problems. We partnered with Fundación CRE, an organization that sponsors development projects, to help organize our fieldwork. The communities of focus were San Jose, Chochis, and Robore. At each sampling site, we interviewed the residents to collect valuable information regarding their living conditions and perspective on the water conditions in the area. We also demonstrated the device and asked for feedback regarding possible use and size. Most interviewees were extremely enthusiastic about the purifier and expressed interest in using the device. From each site, we collected one liter from the drinking water source utilized by the interviewee. The samples were then taken to a lab in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where we partnered with Universidad Autonoma Gabriel Rene Moreno.

All suited up for the lab, from left to right:
Sofia Sotelo Ortiz, myself, and Ian McLarney

In the lab, the water samples were placed in the purifier and exposed to the ultraviolet light for twenty minutes. After growing overnight, the colonies on each plate were quantified. The results clearly showed that: 1) all samples had high concentrations of coliform bacteria, and 2) the purifier was effective at eliminating most bacteria in the water. To the first point, in all the controls there were high concentrations of bacteria, on the order of 4000 parts per Liter. Based on our sampling method, the bacteria in the controls represent what people consume but not necessarily the quality of the water from the coops that process the water. The faucets likely serve as points of contamination. To the second point, there was approximately a 90% percent reduction in bacterial concentration from purification. In summary, the device worked well and was accepted by almost every person we surveyed!

Ultimately, I had a life changing experience in Bolivia. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel around the world with two of my best friends, working on research that I am truly passionate about!

Studying Abroad in Melbourne, Australia

During the fall of 2014, I was able to study abroad at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. I took Fluid Dynamics, Electronic Systems, and Structural Mechanics. More than learning engineering principles, I learned how to study and adapted within a new education system. Throughout my time there, I made friends from Australia and around the world that will last a lifetime!

Thankfully, I was able to escape the classroom and travel around the country extensively. During our fall break, I spent a week adventuring through the Outback. I hiked around Uluru (previously referred to as Ayer’s Rock), swam under waterfalls, and viewed countless wildlife including: kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, and kookaburras! I also travelled to Tasmania, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef!

Studying abroad in Australia was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!

At Ulura during my Outback adventure!