Feb. 5, 2019

#53: How the Hell Do We Pull Clean Drinking Water Out of Thin Air?

#53: How the Hell Do We Pull Clean Drinking Water Out of Thin Air?
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In Episode 53, Quinn & Brian ask: How the hell do we pull clean drinking water out of thin air?

Our guest is Dr. Shing-Chung “Josh” Wong, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Akron In addition to pursuing bio-inspired materials research, he has worked on mechanical behavior and functional properties of polymers, electrospinning, processing-structure-property relationships, coatings, bio- and nano-materials, and composites. Dr. Wong has authored and co-authored over 70 archived articles in book, journal, and patent literatures, and in 2007, he was selected as a recipient for the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

There are a lot of words you may not understand in that bio – don’t worry, you’re not alone – but the reason Josh is awesome and we wanted him on the show comes down to one simple fact: he has invented some very cool shit that benefits anyone who enjoys being alive on Earth. He comes from a place of such moral integrity, constantly striving to use his capacity for innovation and discovery to help other people... a trait that is almost staggeringly uncommon these days, to our detriment.

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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn: Just over there on the couch texting.

Brian: Nope.

Quinn: This is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone, including Brian, on the planet, right now and the next 10 years. If it can kill us, or turn us into very realistic sun gods, were in. Our guests are, oh boy, scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, activists, astronauts, even a reverend, and we work together towards action steps that listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.

Brian: This week's episode is, "How The Hell Do We Pull Clean Drinking Water Right Out of Thin Air?" Our guest is Professor Josh Wong. He's a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Akron. In addition to pursuing bio-inspired materials research, he has worked on mechanical behavior and functional properties of polymers, electro spinning, which sounds awesome by the way, processing structure, property relationships, coatings, bio and nano materials and composites. Dr Wong has authored and coauthored over 70 archived articles in book, journal and patent literatures. In 2007, he was selected as a recipient for the prestigious National Science Foundation Career Award.

Quinn: And he has invented some very cool shit for everyone who enjoys ... being alive, on earth. Right?

Brian: You asked me earlier, "What's the one thing we all need?"

Quinn: Coffee.

Brian: It's coffee.

Quinn: Yes. Water.

Brian: Obviously. But right after that is water.

Quinn: Yeah. We couldn't get enough coffee. I mean, I guess you could chew the beans, people do that. I guess you can get those little chocolate-covered espresso beans. Those are delicious.

Brian: They are fine, but they are not a cup of espresso.

Quinn: In college, a friend gave me a bag of them and I just ate them and it was like five o'clock in the afternoon. And you know me, I have two beans and put the bag away. It went great. Anyways, great talk, such a smart dude. And coming from a place of such moral integrity, which is, "Why would I not use my capacity for innovation and discovery to help millions of people?" Which feels fucking unique these days.

Brian: Ugh, yes, sadly.

Quinn: But something to be inspired by and learn from. And, because we give you action steps, something you can contribute to.

Brian: Of course.

Quinn: Right? Pretty baller. All right, let's go talk to Dr Wong. Our guest today is Professor Josh Wong. And together we're going to ask the question, Josh, how the hell do you pull drinking water out of the sky? Josh, welcome.

Josh Wong: Well, in fact, most of the naturally occurring phenomena already putting water out from the sky. What happens is that the moisture from the ocean vaporizes and become cloud, and cloud get blown by the wind and then as the warm current and the cold currents meet each other, the cloud start to spin and that causes precipitation. And, as the rain comes, we collect the fresh water. What I'm trying to achieve is to miniaturize this process and use a heat exchanger to allow the moisture from air to condense and, by optimizing the surface area to volume ratio of the membrane and [inaudible 00:03:28] that we use to condense the water, we will be able to generate our freshwater from air.

Quinn: Well, that sounds incredible. I'm pretty pumped to dig into that with you here today.

Brian: Sounds amazing. All right.

Quinn: Yeah. Could you just give us a little background on who you are and where you're working in and what your story is? Just a brief rundown.

Josh Wong: Yeah. I'm a material scientist by training and I work with a lot of different materials including polymers and composites for their functional applications as well as structural applications. I have been a faculty member for 20 years and I travel pretty extensively and particularly in places where is affected by drought conditions. And I understand different cultures. In some parts of the world, freshwater is just a luxury and there's no groundwater, also the groundwater gets contaminated. Many parts of the world such as northern part of China and a lot of part of, in India, there's facing drought and also desertification and part of the Middle East as well as in northern Africa and south west part of United States.

Josh Wong: And the groundwater has been depleted, if not contaminated. So, there must be a new way, a new innovation to come in order to produce fresh water for places that is far from the coastlines. Yeah. And governments across the globe try to use a centralized method to distribute water, which is not a very efficient way, and my technology is trying to focus on decentralized technology that will allow freshwater to be produced and generated by individual household, individual who is residing in places that is far from the coastlines.

Quinn: That's awesome. Josh, it sounds like you've traveled quite a bit, you said you're at the University of Akron. Are you from the United States originally or are you from an area that was affected by this and that's what got you down the path?

Josh Wong: Well, I live in the United States for well over 20 some years, but I also travel extensively in Asia, been to the Middle East. I also was just in Vietnam and Cambodia this winter. And I recognize that this freshwater is not just a single geographic problem, it's actually a common problem for humanity. And in many parts of the world that undergo rapid industrialization, the groundwater has been depleted and used to cool machinery. So, some of these waters become contaminated and it cannot be recycled and they can only do a wastewater treatment. Sometimes there's some limitation on that. And desalination has been a topic that many governments try to invest. Desalination only helps places which is close to the coastline. And a decentralized way to distribute water such as a freshwater harvester or freshwater generator, that can be applied either in a mobile equipment like a boat.

Josh Wong: When a boat is sailing in the ocean really, there's no other way to get fresh water but what is stored in the boat itself, or it has to source fresh water from air. Or it has to do with places that is remote from the coastlines, then they will have to generate freshwater locally. And many of these, the ideas that we have, can actually produce clean water in any locality by having the water being produced by just simple heat exchange process with optimized surface area to volume ratio, allowing water to condense and then we can filter it. Or this polymer that we use can also be antimicrobial and it doesn't allow virus or bacteria to grow. And then, will have purified water that is immediately drinkable. There are many ways that we could do it, but there're just a host of materials technology than we can explore.

Quinn: I mean, that all just sounds incredible. And, yeah, I'm so excited to dig into that. It is such a [crosstalk 00:08:34].

Brian: Yeah, continue digging into the way that you're doing it. What we're going to do, Josh, and everyone obviously as a reminder, we're going to provide some context here for the question at hand, "How the hell do you pull water out of the air?" And then we're going to talk about some actionable steps that we can take to get to the heart of why we should give a shit and what we can all do it.

Quinn: That's awesome. Josh, I feel like you're already heading this way, but we'd like to ask one fun question to set the tone of things. Instead of just telling us your entire life story, we like to ask, Josh, why were you vital to the survival of the species?

Josh Wong: A lot of people are going to suffer, and as I travel in many parts of developing countries, any place that is outside the city, I was say Phnom Penh just a month ago recently. And any place that is outside the city, there's no public water. There's no real sewer system. There's still a lot of population who lives there, and there's still a lot of people who live in places that are remote. So, to distribute or deliver fresh water to those areas in countries like India, which also particularly part of India, that is actually further away from the coastline, they have a fresh water crisis and they need fresh water.

Josh Wong: There's no public water. There's no public sewer system. Freshwater that is locally produced from air is essential for the survival and for the quality of life. To extract water from air is not such a fancy thing, there's way that we can actually extract water from air in a less efficient way called "dehumidification." But then, that process requires high energy and lower output. And what we do is that we apply novel materials science technologies that will allow this process to be a lot more efficient and it can produce a much higher water harvesting efficiency. Our goal is, of course, be able to produce 10 gallons of water an hour and that's achievable as long as we have the right conditions.

Quinn: Well, I mean, that's really amazing. I am going to provide a little context for everybody too, and just what we mean by some of these water shortages and it does feel like you're pretty damn vital if we can figure this out. I mean, as you alluded to, water is the one thing we need. I always think back to my grandpa, after he drank his cheap gin at night and he used to say, "Water rusts the pipes." I don't know where he got his water, maybe from the melted ice cubes after he passed out. Unclear. But the rest of us need water. We can get by with food for a little bit, without food for a little bit, but water not so much. And like you said, Professor, there's water shortages everywhere. And you talked about desalination a little bit. We'll get into that too. Brian, why can't we drink from the ocean directly?

Brian: Because it's salty.

Quinn: That's right. We would die. We can process salty water, but it's hard, and it uses a ton of energy, and it's expensive getting cheaper. We're trying to use [crosstalk 00:11:56].

Brian: And not just that, because water is used for cooling machinery, and any places where there's manufacturing facility, or manufacturing plants, they require a massive amount of water. Industry takes away fresh water a lot faster, a lot more than humanity. And they cannot use salt water because the salt water will corrode the machines and then the machines will be broken, because of salt water.

Brian: So maybe that's what your uncle was talking about.

Quinn: Yeah, maybe.

Brian: Salt water makes the pipes rusty.

Quinn: Yeah, right. Sure. Yeah. And professor, again, please correct me if I'm wrong on any of these. I'm going to just blow through some stats here, so people really get what we're talking about. From what I understand, today, 40% of the world's population is facing water scarcity. That's not 25 years from now when things get a lot hotter. So, 700 million people are at risk of being displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. And that's from Cape Town to Canada, Sao Paulo, China, India, Los Angeles, where we are. Clearly, having serious fresh water issues and we'll continue to. 14 of the world's 20 mega cities, those with the largest or fastest growing economies and the largest populations, are already experiencing water scarcity or drought conditions. Just some little facts. It takes between 26 to 53 gallons of water to grow the grapes and process them into one five-ounce glass of wine.

Quinn: Women and girls often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours a day. If you're wondering how they're spending their time. Almonds require four gallons of water to produce one gram of protein. It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. And this comes out to about 27 gallons of water to produce one gram of land animal protein. What do we do if we're just getting started? These water wars everybody talks about haven't even begun. We have to find these new, seemingly to us, crazy alternatives, but apparently not that crazy to Professor Wong. And that's what's awesome. Methods that are accessible and affordable and efficient to the masses no matter where they live, not by the code. So, Josh, could you just talk us through a little bit. Up until your invention and discoveries here, what are some of the most promising current methods to democratize drinking water across the globe?

Josh Wong: Well, there're other ways that are similar to what we discussed about, using a heat exchanger technology. Or you can use solar power, but it also requires a lot of chemistry. What happens is that, if you run an industrial-scale dehumidifier in your basement, it could collect one gallon of water per day. Now, of course, we are trying do material science and we are trying to use novel materials that will optimize the surface area to volume ratio and also to have a strong super solvent capacity that will allow the water to be extracted from air in a much more efficient and energy efficient manner. That's something which we try to keep it as proprietary. But then, on the other hand, there are other technologies that use different designs and heat exchange systems and also use some kind of chemistry that would be equivalent to some of the super absorbent polymer technology that we have looked at.

Josh Wong: So, basically there're two ways. One is to extract water from air using wind and air is being sucked into the heat exchange system and allowing the heat exchange system to outperform any existing one to condensed water. And then, another way is to use some kind of water absorbing chemicals that extract water from air and powered by other forms of energy. Either way, I think my focus is unique in a way that we use nanotechnology. That's for one, second is that we want this to be so decentralized that we can actually mount it on any mobile equipment such as a boat or a drone or any place that moves and it can gather water at the same time as delivering it.

Josh Wong: And then, ultimately, well that's a longterm goal, we hope that we can miniaturize this process just like the world's ecosystem works and how rains is being generated. We try to miniaturize it in a way that it can fit into a backpack, so that anyone who carries a backpack to climb up the hill with a battery supply power and it can actually, when they get to the top of the mountain and hike, it will get one gallon of water and to drink it and when it comes down to the hill, it will also collect another gallon. So, well, anyway-

Brian: That seems wild.

Josh Wong: Yeah, a lot of wild ideas, exactly.

Brian: Thanks. Great. Great description of what you're doing. Except that I'm so far away from being a professor. Talk to me like I'm four years old. I mean, you're talking about miniaturizing, what does it look like? Would everybody have one in their home?

Josh Wong: Anyone could have it at home if they have a windmill or anyone could have it in a car, there's a power train in the car. Anyone can have it in a drone, which could be either one that is sailing in the ocean or it could be flying in the air.

Quinn: Describe it to us. Is it a funnel? Is it a net, is it a bucket? Is it an intake system? I'm just trying to help people really understand what it looks like.

Josh Wong: Well, it's actually an optimization of a heat exchange process that allows moisture to be in contact with a larger surface area per unit volume basis. It's not rocket science, but it actually requires some material science technology. It requires some heat exchange design. With the right temperature and pressure, water could be generated from air.

Brian: Is there an on/off switch, are there dials and settings? If you gave me one right now, how the hell would I turn it on?

Josh Wong: Well, you will need some power source. If it's electricity, you can actually power it. If you have an automobile, there's already existing powertrain, the car is driving, it hits the wind. And then there's already an air conditioning system in the car. It just convert that air conditioning system, modify it and to allow it to actually gather water and with high efficiency and then the car already has a lot of ... It has room for a few and it could also create some room for fresh water. And with a filter, you can drink the water immediately. You no longer need any cup holder in the car.

Brian: Right. Right. So, it has a filter as well?

Josh Wong: Right. Yeah. Overall, it's going to be a system that will be integrated. Yeah. So that the water is immediately drinkable, and this is achievable. And there's a competitor already producing it, except that they don't have the same focus as I have on integrating it with mobile equipment.

Quinn: Gotcha.

Brian: So, that's your thing. You want to make it mobile? Make it small?

Josh Wong: That's right. [inaudible 00:20:06], yeah.

Quinn: Yeah. I mentioned earlier, and I think, it really is incredible. We talk about, much of the world can be fixed by liberating the time and education, health of women and girls who, again, for about 200 million hours a day across the world are fetching and carrying water for their family. Tell me how an invention like yours applies to that specific situation. Paint me a picture of how it helps those women.

Josh Wong: Yes. The residents of those women doesn't need to ... They don't have to go and walk and collect water from the well. They all need is just to have a little fan or windmill that is like a sustainable housing that is integrated with the house. The windmill can actually be powered by wind and it can generate electricity for a house where they live. And it can also produce for water at the same time. It's a dual function.

Quinn: So, they literally don't have to go anywhere?

Josh Wong: No. They don't have to go through the well to take it and to pull the water from the ground. They can take-

Quinn: And it's clean.

Josh Wong: It's clean, yeah. It's immediately drinkable. Just like any reverse osmosis system, we can purify the water and we can also integrate some of the chemistry that will actually kill all the bacteria and so the water will be safe to drink.

Quinn: I mean, pardon my French, but it sounds pretty fucking incredible, and game changing. Again, you look at a number like that and what some of these women have to do. And sometimes, the danger there in doing that, besides how tough it is on the body and the hours lost to not being in school or not working or farming. When all around the world, the statistics, they say, "Women are better farmers than men." Shocker. It sounds incredible. How, and obviously I know you're in early days here, how scalable is this now and in the future? How affordable is it? We talked about, this could change their lives, but what does that require, financially, to build one of those out? How much does it cost for that family or for someone to donate to whatever, to say, "I built one of these windmills and water systems"? What are we talking about? Paint that picture for me.

Josh Wong: Well, to do a proof-of-concept experiment we can possibly just ... We primarily involve manpower. We need graduate students who can actually devote time to work on this. And industrial scale heat exchanger is costing less than $2,000 a piece, and that can produce a lot of water. And the material science, that is, the research and development costs, that will cost more because of primarily the manpower. But ultimately, once this manpower and research and development are resolved, the actual production cost will be minimal. Because, if a big corporation such as auto companies or those shipbuilders are willing to work with us, we can immediately just integrate this technology into their equipment and it really cost very little. And for those women who have to walk a long way to get to the well, we can prepare a small-scale water generator that's powered by wind energy. We will just need to build a windmill like in places in the Netherlands, they have a lot of windmills that can power a residential in a [crosstalk 00:23:58].

Quinn: How big are we talking? If I'm one of these women that's walking so far for water, and I through, I don't know if this is a future through a nonprofit or whatever the organization might be, and I want one of these at my home, what size of windmill are we talking? How big is this whole machinery for them?

Josh Wong: Well, I believe a hundred megawatt windmill they will be able to power a village, and also to generate water for a village, and-

Brian: Oh, so it's not each person, it's a whole village. Okay.

Josh Wong: Well, I mean, if we are talking about a lot of women having to walk a long distance, they probably are sharing a well and they probably live in a village and for one large windmill should be sufficient to power not just the electricity for the whole area, but also to supply water for the whole area. Then they don't have to, you just need to install a pump in each house and pump the water from the storage tank. And that should not be a difficult task to do. But then, of course, ideally we wanted to produce this water generator in just an electronic store, where they can just go and get the appliance and bring it home and plug it into electricity. That will probably cost about $2,000.

Brian: A piece.

Quinn: Gotcha.

Josh Wong: Yeah. For example, well, ultimately we will have to scale up the technology and that will, possibly, if we just pack it into a place where there is electricity, a good quality one probably would cost that. We can possibly manufacture it. If the technology is successful, we can manufacture it at a lower cost and they will cost a few hundred dollars. But then, it's all a question of ... the major investment right now is research and development, and to identify the right materials for the work to optimize the water extraction. Whereas to miniaturize the ecosystem and how to produce, as you see in raining conditions.

Josh Wong: There's tons of water. Water is just being wasted. It rains and then flows back to the ocean. There are reservoirs, but the rain doesn't always rain in the reservoir. It always goes to places where it actually is being wasted. In India when the rain comes and it's flooded on the street and then it gets contaminated with all the soil, it would be a lot more expensive to separate it. The point is that we can try to extract water in areas, anywhere you try to be with minimum humidity and then from air you can extract it. And as long as there's some power, you can convert the energy and then create the water easily.

Brian: You said that the main obstacle clearly is the manpower and the research, what's happening, what are you doing to overcome that?

Josh Wong: Well, yeah, a couple of ways. One is that we work with individuals or corporations who are interested to help us work and provide the sponsorship for the work that we do and they can license the technology that we produce. Another way is that we can form a startup and then we can go after those venture capitalists and they are quite interested to fund this kind of work. Except that all different kinds of routes, there's always some kind of indirect complexity involved.

Brian: Sure, sure. Are you working on that right now? Are you taking steps to form a company or reach out to people?

Josh Wong: I'm taking steps to reach out to people and ask for sponsorship. At this point, I have some success, but I don't have enough sponsorship to allow me to sponsor graduate students yet. We have enough money to do some supplies and consumable purchases, but then we don't have the manpower ready. We need probably a good one for a year or so, that will actually help us put together a prototype. And once the prototype is ready, then we can think about the startup or think about other venture capitalists who are willing to finance.

Quinn: So just to help, again, paint a picture for folks who might want to do something like this or help or things like that, to get to that prototype stage, you said you don't have enough. What kind of funding do you feel like you actually need to do it and to do that right?

Josh Wong: Well, to have enough manpower to research the right materials, there're a lot of super solvent materials that we can explore, and we need to integrate the design with a heat exchange process. To do that costs about, maybe in the order of about $500,000 because, there's overhead costs in the university and, as a research project that's around in that order of magnitude. But we just need to have some supplies and to hire some temporary students to help us put one piece or two pieces together. That might probably take only a few tens of thousands.

Quinn: Gotcha. And how long, obviously, disclaimer, science is hard. Assuming you get that sort of funding, how long does this process take, do you think, to get to working prototype?

Josh Wong: To get a prototype ready, it probably takes about one year, I would think. Yeah.

Quinn: It's not bad.

Josh Wong: Yeah. Because, we know how to put it together. It just all about, of course, if there's a corporation such as like auto industry or a boat industry that actually wants to work with us, they already have some existing system. We just need to modify it. And there's a heat exchange manufacturer which produce heat exchanger for air conditioner for refrigerator or for the humidifier, we can work with this company then they will speed up our process of trying to ... We just need to modify what they have and we just create a prototype much quicker. But, of course, if we have to put it all together by ourselves, it will take a little longer time.

Quinn: Yeah, I think so.

Brian: It sounds like such an incredible and necessary idea. If you said that to anybody, I would just think they would be like, "Hell yes, let's do this."

Quinn: Right. Of course.

Josh Wong: Yeah. If you know anyone in Southern California who owns the yacht, who owns like a ...

Quinn: Brian?

Brian: Yeah. You're talking to him. No, just kidding.

Josh Wong: Right. And you know someone who actually, ship builders, they have no other choice other than pumping enough water before they say sail or they have to produce water in the middle of the ocean.

Quinn: Yeah. When someone contributes to the stage you're in, what sort of entity is that going to? Is that going to lab? Is that going to a non profit? How is my money treated, I guess, in that sort of situation? Just trying to illustrate for folks, because people know like, "Oh, I can donate to charity water and that's tax deductible," and they go build wells. But for a stage like this, I think it's a little more of a gray area for folks. I'm curious, if you can tell us about that.

Josh Wong: Yes, I'm happy to. Now, if it's just a donation, the university can also accept donation. There's a foundation that has the charitable mission that accept donation, but then, there's no intellectual property and no strings attached to that. If the individual who wants to license the technology, then they will have to sponsor this as a research project. And any kind of intellectual property I could produce belongs to the state of Ohio and yet, anyone who sponsor me can negotiate for licensing right of the technology.

Quinn: Fascinating.

Josh Wong: That's a very smooth process. Could be worked out. It depends on what the sponsor wants to accomplish. If the sponsor just wants to help us, and fund a few students without any strings attached, donation to write off taxes is feasible. And if the sponsor wants to license the technology, then the research project will be the right way to go. If the sponsor wants to commercialize together with me and tap into all the other resources that I have, then we can negotiate another front.

Quinn: Fascinating. I think that's really interesting. I mean, there's a lot of people who want to be involved in things like this.

Brian: Right. It's quite an opportunity.

Josh Wong: Yes.

Quinn: Right, right, right. But I think helping them to understand where it's going, again, donations to the university and the licensing and things like that. And there's going to be just people who want to send $20. We want to help them understand that. But then also more specifically, and this is kind of getting into to what we try to do here is, literally, give them specific ways where they can contribute here.

Josh Wong: Yes. Ultimately, it's not that hard to think about it. The ecosystem and our natural habitat created fresh water for us. The moisture vaporized from oceans, becomes a cloud. And cloud precipitate under right temperatures and pressure and becomes rain. And the rain gets soaked under the ground and it becomes ground water. The rain also falls under the top of the mountain, become ice. And then, it flows into the creek. The creek goes to the river, the river goes to the lake. And then the lake goes to the ocean. So, it's just the whole process that we are trying to mimic and try to use a heat exchange process to miniaturize this.

Brian: Sure. It sounds like just such a good idea and clearly, not something that can be done easily. Aside from the manpower, you need the money, you need, of course ... What other obstacles are you facing? How could this fail?

Josh Wong: Well, the outer obstacle would have been the ... In fact, with the right manpower, we could possibly design the right idea because they are a lot of super absorbing materials that we can explore, including cellulose, including polymeric base, including other system with metallic. But then, ultimately, there's materials integration. How we actually integrate into a system that will actually create the optimized delivery of output and minimize the energy input. We can generate water, as I mentioned earlier, you can go and buy a dehumidifier for $200 online.

Josh Wong: They can produce fresh water for you in your basement or in your house, but the efficiency is low. So what we are trying to accomplish is to use nano technology, material science and to optimize the process of water extraction from air. And, ideally, this will be integrated with mobile equipments such that there's a water storage capacity and also there is purification and is immediately drinkable. So that's different from the humidifier, because the water from the humidifier is not immediately drinkable.

Brian: Oh yeah, I've tried. You don't want to drink that.

Josh Wong: No.

Brian: Hey, Professor, are you aware of other people who are trying something similar? And if so, how they're doing?

Josh Wong: Well, most of them actually started ... I started in 2012 but then I got busy with some other things. But then most of them started after 2012. But we are focusing on a very ... I try to differentiate myself from them because, they are quite successful to some extent, but I wanted to be more decentralized, and I also want to apply nanotechnology, which they don't. That's something which I try to differentiate myself.

Quinn: Got to use the nano-tech, right?

Brian: I mean, come on.

Quinn: Every day.

Brian: And you've got to differentiate yourself. It's very important.

Josh Wong: Well-

Quinn: All right. Go ahead.

Josh Wong: It's because of the high surface area to volume ratio.

Quinn: For sure. For sure. All right, Professor Wong, we talked about this for a second, but, well, our aim here eventually with each episode in conversation is, to help our listeners affect change personally with their voice, their vote, and their dollars. So let's get specific. What can listeners do to help support your project? Let's start with your project. You mentioned it seems like a conglomeration of university donations and other things, but let's paint a picture. Let's say it's somebody, they donate to a few worthy causes that they care about every year and they've got a hundred to $200 they want to contribute to your project, so they're not going to change your life. But assume there's a bunch of those people. How does that work? What's the best way for that to work?

Josh Wong: Well, if it's a hundred, $200 they can always pull together and contribute to University of Akron Foundation. That will allow this foundation to provide, well, I was a charitable donation, and it will allow us to support some of the students' projects and allow the students to play with these ideas. And-

Quinn: And, again, just to get really specific, is there something they need to note when they're making the donation, so that it goes to the right place?

Josh Wong: Yes, they can note it like, "This is a research gift to support water harvesting research by Professor Josh Wong. They can contact University of Akron Foundation. I can provide the names, they can contact me first and I can provide the names. We have development office. We have the foundation who collect these gifts and donations that can write off the taxes. The other route is for some of your clients or listeners, corporations, who'd like to collaborate with us, might be able to help us speed up the process. Another possibility is some of those who have deeper pockets and wanted to sponsor our research and ultimately, license the technology and bring it to other parts of the world. Then, we'll go through our research office, which they still have people contact me first, but then I can direct them to the research office.

Quinn: Beautiful. Well, we will definitely get that straight and put that all on the show notes for everybody.

Josh Wong: Research means that there's intellectual property involved. Donation means that there's no string attached, right?

Quinn: Got it.

Josh Wong: But it can still be specified to support water harvesting research under Professor Josh Wong.

Brian: Nice.

Quinn: I love it.

Brian: All right. Say, one of my listeners can't provide money, and we're not voting right now, so we can't support in that way. What can we do? When speaking to our representatives, what questions should we be asking our representatives? Actionable questions.

Josh Wong: Yes. You can ask your representatives to connect me to people who might be able to support my research as well as my goal to reach out to places that have no fresh water. There are companies and there are corporations and individuals who like to help freshwater, elevate or to mitigate the fresh water crisis that is coming up to us, not just in North America, but many parts of the world. For those places, for those people, is best for them to, at least, I have a voice to explain to them what my technology is about and how my technology could help solve this problem, and see if they would be interested.

Josh Wong: That would be a great way. If your listeners can connect me to people who might have those resources, that will be very helpful. There are people who are interested in sustainable housing. That's one way, if there're people who would like to build environmentally friendly houses, that we can try to collaborate and just create a power generator that will allow the water to harvest inside a house. That's one way to do it. There are people who actually build ships and that will be great, They already have a heat exchanger in place, all we need it just to collaborate and try to work out something that will actually allow them to store water in their boat.

Quinn: Sure. Yeah. It seems to make so much sense.

Josh Wong: Yeah. If your listeners can connect me with people who are willing to, or take interest in this fresh water crisis or fresh water issue, that will be a greatly appreciated. Or even government agencies who wanted to sponsor some kind of disruptive technology that will actually not just purely on desalination, waste water treatment or water diversion. That would be helpful. The point is you're in LA and I understand there's often a drought conditions and wild fire as well?

Brian: Yeah.

Josh Wong: But we have tons of water in the Great Lakes, but we cannot pump the water from the Great Lakes to LA because that will not cost effective, but it will also disrupt the habitat of the Great Lakes. So we end up losing water and the lake. It will not work. That happened a lot in China and that's why it's not a good way to learn.

Brian: Yeah. Yeah. All right, very good. I hope the state of Ohio is helping you out.

Quinn: That's right.

Brian: Professor, it's been an awesome conversation and we really, really appreciate it. This is seriously such a cool topic and I wish I had $500,000 to give you. Thank you very much for chatting with us. We have a few last questions that we asked everybody, if that sounds good?

Josh Wong: Sure.

Quinn: Okay.

Brian: Quinn likes to call it "a lightening round," but it's not a lightening round, so just be prepared.

Quinn: Okay. Okay. All right, Professor, I feel like you could have 10 answers to this. When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Josh Wong: First time in life that will change. I would think that I was very well versed in different cultures, and understanding different cultures can make a lot of difference because, people of different cultures do things very differently. There's some unique reason why there is a water problem in some parts of the world and not so much in another part of the world. So it's just like, well, that it's not equally distributed, but water is also neither equally distributed. Water has been monopolized by some people, but not so much by others. So, I think that there are some cultural issue and also there's also some geographic issues. I think that the power of change comes from appreciation of different culture and appreciation of the common needs of humanity. That's how I can make any change.

Quinn: I love that. Professor, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Josh Wong: I think that, in the past six months, I read quite a lot. I think about Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I think that some of these people made some impact in how I think.

Brian: Awesome.

Quinn: They're incredible humans. I've got a few young kids who care greatly about the world, and we found some wonderful books, children's books. It's a series called, "I am," by a gentleman named Brad Meltzer, and I'll put those in the show notes. There's a wonderful book on Gandhi, on Martin Luther King Jr, on Rosa Parks. Just wonderful ones that I think, you don't have to be old, and be able to read and have perspective, to start to really understand what some of these people can do.

Josh Wong: Yeah, the book I have about the biography of Mohandas Gandhi was from my PhD student, named, [Srikumar Pusaroth 00:46:52]. Well, he turned out to be an author of a book that actually teach people how to make energetics. But anyway, that's a secondary issue. But then, there's a book by Martin Luther King Jr called "Strength to Love." And I think that's a very powerful book, and that made a lot of impact on my mind.

Brian: Excellent. Hey, Professor, when you feel super overwhelmed, what do you do specifically, to sort of calm yourself and center yourself?

Josh Wong: Well, when I'm overwhelmed, I try to surf on the internet and try to relax myself. Maybe they just going for a hike and feel how much we are blessed in a place where we can just breathe fresh air and we can have sanitation and we don't have to worry about the quality of water. In many parts of the world, you don't have that luxury, even sanitation. If you travel to some of the developing countries, you realize that sanitation is actually a real luxury. And I live in a place that was in a primitive area, north-eastern part of the border with North Korea and China for about less than a month in my life. And that was a very transformative experience. And then, when I came back, I went to some of the places, not many people like to go in Ohio. But I found those places like paradise, relatively speaking, because, we are just so fortunate in North America that sanitation has been taken for granted. It's actually a luxury to [inaudible 00:48:41] millions and millions of people in other parts of the world.

Brian: Yeah. Pretty wild.

Quinn: True.

Brian: Okay. Professor, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would that book be?

Josh Wong: To gift or to ...?

Quinn: Yeah. Basically, we ask all of our guests, and we've gotten answers from coloring books to the constitution to incredible biographies or fiction. What's one book you feel like he could learn a lesson from? Assuming someone read it to him?

Josh Wong: I would give him the book "The Biography of Chairman Mao."

Quinn: Okay.

Josh Wong: Yeah. He seems to be playing by the same book.

Quinn: Oh, yeah. They don't seem too far off.

Josh Wong: Yeah. Seems to be, yeah.

Quinn: Yeah.

Brian: What was his name again, Professor?

Quinn: The Biography of Chairman Mao.

Brian: Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao.

Josh Wong: Mao Zedong, yeah.

Quinn: Professor, last one. If you could use this conversation, this podcast to speak truth to power, any last things you would like to say to our listeners?

Josh Wong: I would say that, one of the driving forces for me to continue to pursue is not just simply a scientific topic, but it's more so a humanitarian topic. Often, we as scientists can naturally choose many different topics and ideas to research. But something that would actually make a lasting impact is not necessarily something that earns a few bucks or to make a quick return. Sometimes, some of our work that can actually make a lasting impact is work that actually affect more people and not so much about, what are the hot topic of the time? Or hot topic for commercial objectives? I think that's one thing that I would like to let people know. We have moral obligations. We also have an obligation to our society that we try to use our intellect to, not only just to help consumers, but also to help everyone, such that they can benefit from our intellect as well.

Quinn: I love that.

Brian: Awesome.

Quinn: Thank you so much.

Brian: Yeah. Is there somewhere on social media where our listeners could follow you, Professor?

Josh Wong: No. Because I-

Brian: Keep up with your work?

Josh Wong: I'm an academic, so on social media, I try to be careful and cautious because, yeah. But then, otherwise, they can always contact me by my email. And I have a LinkedIn page, if they want to connect with me. But, on social media, I don't usually post things that are wild, and so, they won't really see that much from me on the social media.

Quinn: Probably a good idea. Probably a good idea. Well, listen, Professor, we cannot thank you enough for your time today. And obviously, for the work you're doing, like you said, to use your morality and your intellect to potentially benefit millions of people.

Josh Wong: A wide group of people, instead of just like a hot topic, or a hot [inaudible 00:52:17]. But it's moreso that will create a lasting impact.

Quinn: It will, we believe in you. We're excited to check in with you down the line and see how everything's going and then hopefully funnel some support your way. Thank you so much, Professor. We really do appreciate your time and wish you all the best out there.

Josh Wong: And I also wish both of you good luck and all the best for both of you and thank you very much for your time and let's keep in touch, if possible.

Quinn: Absolutely.

Brian: Of course.

Quinn: Sounds Great, Professor Wong. Thank you.

Brian: Thank you, Josh.

Josh Wong: Yeah. Bye bye. Take care.

Quinn: All right, take care. Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or fucking dog walking late at night, that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news, most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter at #importantnotimp. Just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram at Important, Not Important. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please, subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple podcasts to keep the lights on. Thanks, please. And you can find the show notes from today, right in your little podcast player and at our website,

Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our gym and music, to all of you for listening. And finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us have a great day.

Brian: Thanks guys.