Priestley, Xu honored in Newsweek for invention of cost-efficient, solar-powered water filter

Friday, Dec 17, 2021
by Jonathan Garaffa

Rodney Priestley, vice dean for innovation and the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Xiaohui Xu, a Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellow, have been featured in Newsweek’s list of America’s Greatest Disruptors: Mind Blowers for their invention of a solar-powered water filter that could provide clean drinking water in areas with limited access to electricity. The Disruptors feature is Newsweek's inaugural list of 50 visionaries, pioneers, upstarts and change makers.

Priestley and Xu’s invention is a sponge-like membrane that soaks up water from a surrounding water body. When placed in sunlight, the heat-sensitive material changes shape and pushes out clean drinking water, keeping impurities trapped inside the device. According to the researchers, the technology delivers the highest passive solar water-purification rate of any competing technology, is potentially cheap to manufacture, and requires no energy source beyond sunshine. A company cofounded by Priestley, AquaPao, is developing and commercializing Priestley and Xu’s technology.

The study resulting in the invention, published in the journal Advanced Materials, was supported by the Princeton University Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Program through the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (DMR-1420541, DMR-2011750), the Princeton Catalysis Initiative, and the Princeton University Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund.

Learn more about Priestley and Xu’s invention at the Princeton Innovation website, and read the list of America’s Greatest Disruptors: Mind Blowers at Newsweek. Priestley and Xu’s device has also previously caught the attention of Fast Company and News12 New Jersey.

Rodney Priestley

Rod Priestley. Photo by David Kelly Crow

Xiaohui Xu

Xiaohui Xu. Photo courtesy of Xiaohui Xu