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phd students

Theresa Mkandawire

PhD: Plant extracts to improve shallow well water quality in Malawi


We had the opportunity to speak with Theresa Mkandawire about her PhD which she is undertaking in Malawi whilst she was on a two week research visit at Leeds Beckett. Theresa is a Senior Lecturer in the Civil Engineering department at Malawi Polytechnic.

Theresa Mkandawire's PhD examines how plant extracts can be used to improve shallow well water purity. In Malawi there are high rates of water related disease, accounting for 50% of all illnesses. Theresa's aim is to develop the technology for people to use a concentrated powder of a local plant resource, Moringa oleifera, to mix with water drawn from wells to make purified, safe drinking water.

Her field research in Malawi started by establishing a database of water samples from fifty two wells from six districts. The use of plant extracts for water purification was not something new, but Theresa was interested in researching the Moringa oleifera plant which is locally available; and what levels of extracts were needed in wells to achieve optimum purification using these natural resources. The purification system concentrates on the removal of bacteriological and physical constituents. Laboratory and field data indicate that an 80 to 100% improvement in water quality can occur due to this process. Leeds Met supplied the equipment for chemical, physical and microbiology testing for Theresa to undertake her research at Malawi Polytechnic.

PhD supervision is given by Dr Martin Pritchard at Leeds Met and has included at number of trips by Dr Pritchard to Malawi. Commenting on this support Theresa said that "Martin Pritchard has been very helpful in supporting me with my PhD. I am able to contact him by email and over the phone for support. Martin Pritchard has made a number of trips to Malawi to support me and I have visited Leeds Beckett for research trips and supervision support."

UK lab based research by Leeds Beckett PhD student, Tom Craven, is also feeding directly in to Theresa's field based PhD and they were able to work together on her trip to the UK to examine toxicity of plant extracts. Theresa hopes to complete her PhD in May 2011 after which she is interested in taking the technology even further and continue researching natural coagulant aids.

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