In Bangladesh last year, Johanna Mathieu saw unmistakable signs of the poisoning afflicting the impoverished country. “Everyone would show us their hands,” says the 26-year-old doctoral student in mechanical engineering. The painful and disfiguring sores, blisters and dark spots are telltale indicators of the deadly toll exacted by arsenic-laced water wells.
Mathieu heads a student team at UC Berkeley responding to what experts consider the largest mass poisoning in history: millions of Bangladeshis are drinking water containing hazardous levels of arsenic. “They say between 30 and 70 million people are exposed,” says Mathieu. She is working with an interdisciplinary group led by Ashok Gadgil, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an adjunct professor in the Energy and Resources Group, to develop a simple, inexpensive process for removing the toxic element from the water supply.