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Source: DeeAnn Turpin, 785-395-2172,
Photos available. Download at,,
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-2535,

Thursday, March 17, 2011


MANHATTAN -- For most Americans a glass of water quenches thirst. But in many countries a few sips can have far less desirable results. That's why a Kansas State University student engineering group is spending spring break in Guatemala, working to reduce the number of contaminants in the country's drinking water.

"Water treatment in Guatemala is crucial because the country's water is some of the most contaminated in the world," said DeeAnn Turpin, a junior in biological systems engineering from Leavenworth and project manager of the K-State chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

"Guatemalans take water from streams and use it to drink and cook with, but they also use it to bathe in and then just dump it back into the stream. Anybody downstream who drinks that infected water can become sick, and in some cases, even die," Turpin said.

That's what Turpin is hoping to change. She and five members of the K-State chapter of Engineers Without Borders will go door-to-door March 19-26, distributing and installing more than 200 water filters in homes in Panajachel, Guatemala.

The filters come from a Rotary International grant and are about a foot-and-a-half tall. Their size makes them easily portable, allowing residents in the largely agricultural villages of San Pedro la Laguna, San Pablo la Laguna, San Juan la Laguna and San Antonio Palopo to take them into the fields.

But the K-State group's water purification efforts won't stop there.

Turpin and teammates will build biosand filters in surrounding schools. These large filters are made from layers of coarse and fine sand and remove around 90 percent of organic contaminants. The sifted water can then be treated with chlorine tablets, iodine drops or sunlight to kill the remaining contaminants.

Medical students from the University of Minnesota are coming along to help the K-State group and medical professionals treat villagers with worms and distribute medication to prevent outbreaks in those without the parasite.

Turpin began traveling her freshman year, saying she saw it as an opportunity to help people and also strengthen her engineering skills. Past trips have taken her to New Orleans and to India.

"In India we were given a problem -- contaminated drinking water -- that we had to figure out, and there was no book with the answers in the back that we could refer to for a solution," she said. "We had to communicate with people in a culture we're not used to, and work with limited resources to design an electricity-free system that's completely sustainable and used the natural land. It was great because we were close to the Himalayas and could take advantage of those slopes and inclines when designing a rainwater harvesting system."

Turpin said the trips are as much about helping those in need as they are preparation for a career. She recently began working in Seaton Hall's bioenergy lab, researching the properties of different algae species for algae derived biodiesel.

"Everybody asks you what you want to be in high school. I want to be an inventor, but there's not a major for that," she said. "I thought that by studying biology and physics and combining them with engineering I could start developing solutions that focus on sustainable energy generation and distribution."

K-State students traveling with Turpin to Guatemala are Kraig Thompson, sophomore in industrial engineering, Manhattan; Megan Rooney, senior in architectural engineering, Shawnee; and Lindsey Elder, sophomore in family studies and human services, Topeka.

From out of state: Matt DeCapo, senior in physics and architectural engineering, Kansas City, Mo.; and Lauren Winnen, senior in natural resources and environmental sciences, Lakewood, Colo.

Anil Pahwa, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the acting adviser for the K-State chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

Engineers Without Borders is a nonprofit organization committed to humanitarian efforts around the world. The K-State chapter was chosen for the trip by Rotaract, a Rotary International-sponsored club for young men and women, and Heart to Heart International, an Olathe-based global volunteer organization that works on improving health in underserved communities.