Syracuse U. students invent water filtering cloth designed for developing countries

Student researchers designed and built a prototype for an invention combining a traditional sari with advanced water filters built in.

Su Water1

SYRACUSE, NY, SEPT 5, 2019 -- When visiting family in India, Syracuse University senior Nikita Chatterjee learned that even as improvements have been made to the country’s water system, large segments of the population still do not have access to safe drinking water.

“It’s an issue that is prevalent literally anywhere you go,” says Chatterjee.

Chatterjee and her roommate Brianna Howard ’20 had an idea that they believed could help.

Many families in India use traditional sari cloth to filter water. Lab tests have shown four layers of cloth can help filter cholera bacteria but still leave many contaminants behind. estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water sources.

“We both care about health care a lot, so why don’t we make this something that in one way or another impacts health,” says Howard.

Competing in a six-week program called Invent@SU at Syracuse, Chatterjee and Howard designed and built a prototype for an invention combining a traditional sari with advanced water filters built in. Recognizing that first-world solutions do not always work for developing countries, their PAANI device is simple, familiar and practical for families who already use sari cloth for filtering.

“They had this intuitive method that did work for them just not as efficiently as it should. And I think we wanted to enhance that but still keep that familiarity for them,” says Chatterjee.

When the filters in the PAANI device are used up, henna dye produces an “X” symbol on the cloth.

“The X we choose because everyone knows x means stop. There doesn’t have to be a language barrier,” says Chatterjee.

Invent@SU follows Invention Factory™’s proven method of developing students’ abilities to innovate and communicate. Students learn about design, ideation and intellectual property, then conceive an original invention, prototype the invention and refine it in response to weekly feedback from guest evaluators.

The program awards $5,000 for best invention and $3,000 for second best invention.

Ten teams participate in the Invent@SU invention accelerator during the Syracuse University campus session. Each week the teams presented their work to guest evaluators during seven-minute presentations, and at the end of the program, a panel of judges vote on the top inventions.

Industrial and interaction design majors Hannah Erickson ’23 and James Ruhlman ’22 took second place with a unique drawing tool that allows the user to make music and art at the same time. They called their invention “Mystic Marker.”

“As you press down on the marker tip, it is spring-loaded, so that interacts with the pressure sensor inside and so the harder you press, the higher pitch the notes get,” says Erickson. “Then when you squeeze on the grip, the notes slow down and if you are not squeezing at all, the notes are really, really fast.”

Su Water2Erickson and Ruhlman say special education teachers were interested in the marker’s potential as a creative tool for children with autism.

“Every time we would bring up the idea to someone, their face would light up,” says Erickson.

During Invent@SU, students receive assistance from faculty with the Syracuse University College of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Design. Several of the teams plan to work with Blackstone Launchpad to move forward as small businesses.

“Even if you don’t know how to code or you don’t know how to engineer, you can learn all of those skills because at the end of the day you know how to make something, and this program is about making a prototype,” says Erickson.

Visit for more information on Invent@SU and to see past student inventions.

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