Cedar Rapids Gazette: Student Hopes T-shirts Will Provide Clean Water to Developing Nations

Thursday, September 8, 2011

By Erica Pennington
Source Media Group

Web Note:  Savannah Butler is the daughter of Barry Butler, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and University of Iowa executive vice president and provost, and Audrey Butler, lecturer in chemical and biochemical engineering.

Savannah Butler hopes that selling t-shirts (pictured) will help her raise $500 to purchase portable water treatment devices to send overseas (photo credit: Butler family)

Sixteen-year-old Savannah Butler is the first to tell you that being in and around pools has had a tremendous impact on her life. Now the avid swimmer hopes that she can help spread the gift of water to those who need it the most – not for a recreational activity, but for their basic survival.

A junior at Iowa City West High School, Butler has designed special T-shirts to sell as a local fundraiser to help purchase small water treatment systems to improve the lives of people who do not have access to clean water around the globe.

“I’ve been thinking about doing some type of fund raiser,” Butler said. “It seems like selling T-shirts would be a plausible way to do that.”

Through working with the University of Iowa Engineers without Borders (UIEWB), Butler hopes that she will be able to raise approximately $500 to help purchase units at a cost of five dollars each to send overseas. To date, she has raised $300.

First created in 2006, the small plastic device that Bryant hopes to purchase has been the outcome of several years of work by University of Iowa students in a class called “Design for the Developing World.”

Class instructor Craig Just says that the design idea came to the students in 2006 after being taught about a similar product. In the years since, classes have modified the original idea to make a user-friendly, portable, plastic design that has been built on a small scale.

“The creation of the prototype has taken us (UIEWB) to places like Ghana, Mexico and Africa to help put the device in the hands of the people who need it,” Just said.

Simple by basic design, the prototype of the device uses a small battery to create an electric charge. That charge is then sent through salt water, turning the sodium chloride into chlorine.

The chlorine, which is a bleaching agent, can then be used to help disinfect water so that it is safe to drink.

“The process of using the device to create bleach takes around four minutes and can be used to disinfect approximately 20 liters (around five gallons) of water per cycle,” Just said.

Bryant hopes that her T-shirts, which say “swim” on the front in fifty languages, and are being sold at a cost of $15, will help remind people about the need for clean water around the world and encourage them to be proactive.

“We’re fortunate to have enough clean water to drink and play around [in Iowa],” Butler said. “I figured that it wasn’t fair that some people do not have that advantage or clean water to drink – I want to help.”


Illustrations of a small plastic device that can be used to disinfect water in developing countries. Photo provided by Craig Just.

Additional information:

  • Bryant’s T-shirt orders are being taken at local swim meets through the end of the week. If community members are interested in purchasing a shirt or donating to the cause, they should email Savannah and her family at cleanh20forall@gmail.com.
  • The $15 for each shirt pays for screen printing costs and purchases one device each.