Drink a Book to Purify Your Water, Why Not

By Maddie Stone on at

You’ve probably never thought “maybe I’ll drink a book today,” but apparently that’s just for lack of imagination. Scientists, inventive weirdos that they are, have upended reality once again, creating a book with pull-out, nanoparticle-coated pages that can filter 100 litres of drinking water each. That's enough to supply a single person’s water needs for up to four years.

“The Drinkable Book,” brainchild of Theresa Dankovich, is one of those bizarre ideas that only comes to fruition when PhD students spend too many sleepless hours tinkering in the lab. During the course of her doctorate in materials science at McGill University, Dankovich discovered that it’s pretty easy to stick silver nanoparticles into thick sheets of tissue paper. This turns the paper into a fantastic biological filter, one that’s able to eliminate most bacteria, and even a range of tiny, virus-sized particles.

After completing her degree, Dankovich moved to University of Virginia’s Centre for Global Health, where she’s continued to refine her literary water filtration device, adding copper nanoparticles to the mix. She’s also begun field trials of the technology in parts of South Africa and Kenya where access to clean drinking water is a daily struggle. Dankovich describes her ongoing work to Live Mint:

“In Africa, we wanted to see if the filters would work on ‘real water,’ not water purposely contaminated in the lab,” she said. “One day, while we were filtering lightly contaminated water from an irrigation canal, nearby workers directed us to a ditch next to an elementary school, where raw sewage had been dumped. We found millions of bacteria; it was a challenging sample.”

“But even with highly contaminated water sources like that one, we can achieve 99.9% per cent purity with our silver- and copper-nanoparticle paper, bringing bacteria levels comparable to those of US drinking water,” Dankovich added .

“Some silver and copper will leach from the nanoparticle-coated paper, but the amount lost into the water is within minimal values and well below Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organisation drinking water limits for metals,” she said.

I know what you’re thinking: this isn’t really a book, it’s just a bunch of leather-bound, nanoparticle-coated tissue papers trying to trick us. Wrong! Printed on each page of the book, which can be ripped out and fed into a special filtration device, is useful information on water safety in at least two languages. That way, you spend your camping trip reading up on water-borne pathogens, rather than accidentally wiping your butt with an advanced, nanotech-based filtration system.

The Drinkable Book isn’t commercially available yet, but Dankovich is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to begin mass producing the book for developing countries. I’m personally hoping the idea takes off — this would make a fantastic Christmas gift for my outdoorsy friends. [Live Mint]