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Water scarcity is a major problem across the world. "It affects every continent," says Amir Barati Farimani, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. "Four billion people live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year. Half a billion people live under severe water scarcity all year."

 

 

Yet even as people struggle without access to , there are oceans of undrinkable water right outside their doors. "71% of the world's surface is covered by seawater," Barati Farimani says. "So this is a very interesting contradiction."

 

In order to combat this problem, Barati Farimani has focused his research on water desalination. This is the process in which salty seawater can be transformed into fresh water.

 

There are many ways to desalinate water, but one of the most effective is membrane desalination. In this method, water is pushed through a thin membrane with tiny holes. The water flows through the pores, but the salt ions can't, leaving only fresh water on the other side.

 

In his latest research, Barati Farimani explores the potential of a new type of membrane, called a metal-organic framework (MOF). "These membranes consist of both the metal center and organic compound," Barati Farimani says. The organic compound and metal connect in a pentagonal pattern, leaving a hole in the center that serves as a . "If you look at them, they are like a honeycomb," Barati Farimani adds.

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