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BC Grads: Solving The World's Water Crisis With A Beetle?

BOSTON (CBS) - A couple of Boston College graduates are banking on a beetle to help solve the world's clean water crisis.

The World Water Council estimates about 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water worldwide. Deckard Sorensen and Miguel Galvez are hoping to help change that through their start-up company NBD Nanotechnologies.

They already won the $10,000 grand prize from the Boston College Venture Competition, which is going toward developing their prototype.

Now, NBD has been picked as one of 125 finalists in this year's MassChallenge, a competition that awards promising entrepreneurs world-class mentorship, free office space, access to funding, media and more. The competition's finalists participate in a 3 month accelerator, and the top 10-20 startups split $1,000,000 in cash awards.

NBD Nanotechnologies
Material made to mimic a Namib Desert Beetle holds droplets of water. (Photo Courtesy: NBD Nanotechnologies)

NBD's design for a water collecting device is based on the Namib Desert Beetle, which manages to survive in one of the hottest, driest, and most uninhabitable places on the planet. The bug uses its back to extract its water supply from morning fogs. Wind pushes the moisture into the peaks of the beetle's back until enough condensation builds up to form droplets of water.

Galvez credits Sorensen with coming up with an idea while taking a Biomimicry course.

"His final paper was about the Namib Desert Beetle, and thus, the idea was born," Galvez said.

Galvez and Sorensen turned to Andy McTeague, a chemist who's currently enrolled in MIT's graduate program, to recreate the chemical properties of the beetle's back.

Using nanotechnology, McTeague built a material that's being incorporated into the prototype, which is designed to optimize collection of condensation.

"By engineering designs that support condensation we have the ability to be a sustainable method of harvesting drinking water from the atmosphere," Galvez tells CBS Boston.

Sill in its early stages, NBD Water is currently focused on creating a small-scale product. But given the success they have seen so far, these three scientists won't rule out big plans for the future.

"We believe we can create a scalable design that could prove valuable for a number of applications," Galvez said.

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