Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

"Smart" Turbidimeters for Remote Monitoring of Water Quality

EPA Grant Number: SU835517
Title: "Smart" Turbidimeters for Remote Monitoring of Water Quality
Investigators: Weber-Shirk, Monroe
Institution: Cornell University , Johns Hopkins University
EPA Project Officer: Levinson, Barbara
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,527
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability



The unaided eye can distinguish cloudy water from clear water, but even visibly clear samples of water can have dangerous levels of turbidity. The standard tool for measuring turbidity (a turbidimeter) is a complex piece of equipment that costs several hundred dollars, largely because it is designed to be an extremely accurate, general-purpose laboratory tool. An affordable, open-source turbidimeter designed specifically for water quality monitoring would broaden access to the principal quality-assurance procedure in the drinking water treatment sector and remove a major roadblock to the sustainability of programs that seek to expand global access to treated drinking water.

Our objective is to design, build, and test an affordable, accurate turbidimeter using off-the-shelf components in a first step towards a mass-produced model. We further propose to integrate such a turbidimeter in an affordable and scalable data communications network.


Our mission is to design a portable turbidity meter at costs affordable to community water treatment plants. These units will take advantage of inexpensive SMS (text messaging) technology to enable remote monitoring and acquisition of performance data. Rather than merely responding to notices of failure, engineers and technicians will be able to use real-time data to follow trends and budget time and resources to respond to crises proactively. Communities, governments, and researchers will be able to evaluate the performance of competing water treatment technologies and make informed technology selections for future projects based on reliable, contextual information.

Expected Results:

The authors have created the following specifications for the proposed device:

  1. Turbidimeter costs less than $100 (for a production model),
  2. Reads samples with an accuracy of 0.05 NTU in the sample range 0-5 NTU, 0.2   NTU in the range of 5-20 NTU, and 5% in the range 20-1000 NTU,
  3. Can be operated manually, or in automated mode for continuous sampling,
  4. Transmits data to an Android phone, via USB connection or Bluetooth,
  5. Is powered by 9-volt batteries (or equivalent widely-available power supply),
  6. Can collect samples in an automated fashion every 15-minutes for one month without needing new batteries.

The device will also interface, through mobile device technology, with the OpenSourceWater online open data portal to provide real-time publication and analysis of community water quality (see for current implementation).

Supplemental Keywords:

water quality, remote monitoring, turbidity, nephelometry, turbidimeter, Android, SMS, data acquisition;