Lassonde postdoctoral Fellow earns award for research that improves drinking water

Drinking water

Pratik Kumar, a postdoctoral Fellow in Professor Satinder Kaur Brar’s lab in the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, has won an award for his work on improving the quality of drinking water.

Kumar was recognized with the International Water Association Young Water Professionals Canada Award for his research focused on developing a biofilter capable of removing cyanotoxins from surface water sources. This research can be applied to drinking water sources in Canada, such as the Great Lakes, and abroad. Cyanotoxins are produced by the commonly seen algae blooms that surround these water sources. These compounds are known to possess massive risks for drinking water, magnified by the difficulty of the removal of these toxins.

The prototype household filtration unit developed by Pratik Kumar and Professor Satinder Kaur Brar
The prototype household filtration unit developed by Pratik Kumar and Professor Satinder Kaur Brar

This issue is of particular importance for Ontarians, since water from the Great Lakes is used to service over eight million Canadians. Kumar’s mission was to develop a bench-scale solution that was both sustainable and economical. The result was a biofilter that used graphitized sand to reduce the concentration of these cyanotoxins to 0.61 µg/L, which is less than the critical concentration of 1 µg/L established by the World Health Organization. The choice of sand was of particular importance, as Kumar recognized from the start that household users might not like the idea of using bacteria or biological compounds to treat their drinking water. In fact, the graphitized sand used in this work can be obtained through green methods by repurposing existing waste products. The work has been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment across two publications, demonstrating the ability to use sand composites as filters for water contaminants and a prototyped unit.

Having conducted his PhD and postdoctoral fellowship with Brar in Lassonde’s Department of Civil Engineering, Kumar always knew that he wanted to be an academic. He was recently appointed as a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jammu, starting in April 2021, which he said was a dream come true.

“I studied at IIT and wanted the opportunity to go back there,” said Kumar. “I want to motivate young researchers and minds and help them believe that they can make a difference.”

Pratik Kumar (Near Lake Delage, Quebec City, Quebec) taking algal bloom samples
Pratik Kumar (near Lake Delage, Quebec City, Que.) taking algal bloom samples

Following the completion of his PhD, which coincided with the beginning of the pandemic, Kumar was concerned about how water professionals would be able to work together. He joined the International Water Association Young Water Professionals chapter in Canada, where he was involved in communications aiming to propagate water research and technology being developed within Canada. He wanted to create awareness about these technologies and influence their use across the world.

“Dr. Kumar was highly motivated and self-driven,” said Brar. “He set a great example for the research group and was always keen to participate in projects with other students.”

Kumar’s work is far from done. After focusing on improving drinking water quality in Canada, he has shifted his focus abroad to India, where the need to remove toxins and other primary pollutants from water sources is greater, with less than half of the population having consistent access to safe drinking water.

Kumar is currently working in India to have his biofilter technologies installed across households there. As well, the research lab is targeting to conceptualize the modular treatment system in the field of wastewater engineering.