The goal of our SURGG project was to use active coating technologies to design and create a tent that could divert, collect, and purify water in disaster relief scenarios. Millions of people are displaced every year due to natural disasters or political instability and are forced to live in temporary shelters, usually tent camps. One of the largest problems for people living in these tent camps is the limited access to clean water. We wanted to create a tent that could, through the combination of its design and surface coatings, collect water for those living inside.
Due to the complexity of this project, individual members of our group focused on different aspects of the tent. While some members worked on designing the tent and others characterized the surface coatings, I worked on manufacturing a scalable coating for the tent surface. The purpose of the coating was to make the tent superhydrophobic, or to make it so that rainwater would immediately bead up and begin rolling down the channels built into the tent design.
After testing many different coating materials and methods, I used an airbrush to apply a graphene nanoplatelet dispersion to the tent surface. Using an airbrush made it simple to cover large areas of fabric with the coating and the graphene nanoplatelets, which are hydrophobic, made the fabric surface repel water.
From my time working on this project, I learned many concrete skills, such as spray coating, blade coating, and using an ellipsometer. By testing many different coating materials and methods, I developed a greater understanding of the iterative nature of research. Also, I learned about the design process - how existing designs can be improved through minor changes or how to create a new design from scratch.
Most of all, due to the complexity of our interdisciplinary project, I learned a lot about how to work in groups. The lessons I learned about working in diverse teams to solve complicated problems will pay off in my future as a Bioengineering student. Bioengineering, an extremely diverse field, relies on collaboration between people of many different academic backgrounds and I now feel better prepared to succeed in these group settings.