News Three MIT PhD Students Awarded J-WAFS Fellowships for Water Solutions For 2021-2022

J-WAFS has announced the award of graduate fellowships to three MIT PhD students who are driving innovative water sector research that seeks to improve water access for all.

Andi Sutton, J-WAFS May 12, 2021

Today, the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) has announced the selection of its 2021-2022 cohort of graduate fellows. Three students have been named as Fellows as part of J-WAFS’ Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions and J WAFS Graduate Student Fellowship Programs. An additional student was selected for an “honorable mention” award. The Fellows receive full funding for one semester, and J-WAFS will support all four students throughout the 2021-2022 academic year by providing networking, mentorship, and opportunities to showcase their research.

This year’s pool of nominated students demonstrated clear passion for applying research toward solving a wide range of global water challenges, from technologies supporting water efficiency for the agriculture sector, to wastewater remediation, to water filtration, and more. The strong applicant pool reflected the Institute’s growing depth and reach in water systems research. The four students being recognized this year represent a dynamic and engaged community dedicated to improving the security, safety, and efficiency of the world’s water supplies.

Join us in congratulating these students as we recognize their outstanding achievements—and promise—as future water leaders!

MIT PhD Candidates Awarded J-WAFS Fellowships:

Three students have been selected as J-WAFS fellows: Danyal Rehman, Hilary Johnson, and Ippolyti Dellatolas. All three are PhD candidates in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. This group of students are highly accomplished, and each have exemplary academic records that include numerous published articles, international awards, and patents. However, in addition to their exemplary academic work, each of them has demonstrated a deep commitment to water and environmental sustainability.

Danyal Rehman has been awarded a J-WAFS Fellowship for Water Solutions. Danyal grew up across seven different countries, four of which were in the developing world. This experience provided him first-hand knowledge of global water access challenges and inspired him to pursue sustainability research throughout his education. As an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, he launched a start-up based in Nepal where he built solar-powered water management units for smallholder farmers. He won a prize from USAID for this work, which he used to fund low-cost, renewable irrigation water to over 50 families in Nepal. This experience fueled an ongoing passion for applying technical solutions to the food and water sector. It also led him to MIT, where he is now working on low-cost, nutrient-recovering desalination systems that can dramatically improve the affordability and efficiency of greenhouse irrigation. He has also been involved in other research projects across the Institute at the water/food nexus as well. He worked with a research team at MIT D-Lab on an evaporative cooling chamber for off-grid food preservation in Sub-Saharan Africa and has also been involved with the Water and Energy Research Lab at the University of Toronto where he has developed energy-efficient desalination systems for villages across India.

Hilary Johnson has been awarded a Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions. Hilary has been working on solving water sector challenges around the world since high school. From research in Bosnia on the impact of wastewater leakage to underground aquifers, to the development of a bio-filtration system for Haitian communities who were not able to access clean water due to earthquake disruptions, to her current work on adaptive hydraulics, Hilary is focused on solutions in the form of innovative and accessible technologies. While at MIT, she has been developing a new invention with worldwide implications for the water industry: an adaptive “variable volute” pump that radically improves efficiency and reduces energy use while being able to respond to changing operating conditions. Currently, centrifugal pumps consume six percent of US electricity annually and up to twenty percent of electricity in developing countries. This leads to both high costs and high greenhouse gas emissions. Her technology improves the energy efficiency and reliability of pumps, reducing both energy and maintenance costs. It is poised to provide dramatic improvements in the sustainability of urban water systems around the world while ensuring affordable access to clean water and wastewater utilities. She as developed this technology in collaboration with the international water technology company Xylem, Inc. In recognition of this work and her other inventions, she was recently awarded the prestigious 2021 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Ippolyti Dellatolas has been awarded a J-WAFS Fellowship for Water Solutions. Ippolyti has been a champion for the environment in her work and life since an undergraduate course at her university in France opened her eyes to the threat of the climate crisis. She began with long-term lifestyle changes to reduce her personal carbon footprint and extended to an internship where she worked on the construction of a new metro line in Paris, the Grand Paris Express. There, she saw first-hand how government and the private sector could collaborate to design sustainable cities and was inspired to apply her engineering knowledge toward system-wide sustainability solutions. That experience led her to MIT, where she is currently exploring engineering solutions that can help to reduce erosion and flooding by changing the flow paths of water during extreme weather events. Soils become more water-repellent after wildfires and droughts. When rainfall does occur, the water channels are uneven, which impedes soils’ natural filtration ability, triggers catastrophic erosion, and contaminates local water supplies. Ensuring that water supplies can be properly filtered by nature is paramount to securing safe drinking water, and reducing erosion helps to preserve existing topsoil for agriculture and ecosystem services. Ippolyti further works for water and sustainability locally as a member of the Graduate Student Council’s Sustainability Working Group and the MIT Water Club.

MIT PhD Candidate Awarded Honorable Mention for the J-WAFS Fellowships for Water Solutions:

Eric Ponce is a PhD candidate in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. His research aims to increase efficient water use by developing a low-cost device to generate real-time water consumption and flow data that can be analyzed to identify leaks in the system and make other operational improvements. He aims to retrofit pre-existing water meters with sensing hardware to turn these everyday meters into smart technologies. The goal is to improve the quantity and quality of water consumption data so that municipalities can save water and decrease costs for all.

The J-WAFS Fellowships for Water Solutions are funded in part by J-WAFS Research Affiliates Xylem, Inc. and GoAigua. The Rasikbhai L. Meswani Fellowship for Water Solutions was made possible by a generous gift from Elina and Nikhil Meswani and family.