Solar water purification by inorganic photochemistry

Grantham Scholar Martin Appleby’s research looks at developing point-of-use water treatments that use immobilised light-harvesting molecules and need only sunlight to work.

The project

Clean water, sanitation and water scarcity is a major issue worldwide, as highlighted in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. According to the UN, more than 2 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, the majority of which are children.

The situation could be much improved with proper water sanitation. But many areas where these problems occur lack access to proper water management systems and infrastructure. Developing point-of-use solutions to treat water on a local scale is one potential way of dealing with this problem. Many current solutions are either very inefficient, or require large amounts of power.

Sunlight can be used for many purposes and one example of this is for water disinfection. It can be harnessed directly for solar disinfection, which is already used in many places in the world. But this approach only uses high energy UV light that bacteria absorb themselves.

Another way of utilising the sun is to use some molecules which absorb visible light, then form highly reactive oxygen species, which in turn can kill bacteria. This project will look into developing potential reusable point-of-use water treatments that use these immobilised light-harvesting molecules, and need only sunlight to work.

Outreach and blogs

Ever wonder how much water the UK uses? In this blog Martin breaks down domestic water use in the UK – and shows that we use more water through what we eat than how we wash. Read: How much water does the UK use?

Before joining the Grantham Centre Martin worked at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron. In this blog Martin describes how the synchrotron works and his work with a team developing Serial Synchrotron Crystallography. Read: What is a synchrotron?.

Martin Appleby’s publications

Cu(i) diimine complexes as immobilised antibacterial photosensitisers operating in water under visible light.
Martin V. Appleby, Peter G. Walker, Dylan Pritchard, Sandra van Meurs, Carly M. Booth, Craig Robertson,a Michael D. Ward, David J. Kelly and Julia A. Weinstein. Mater. Adv., 2020,1, 3417-3427

Dose-resolved serial synchrotron and XFEL structures of radiation-sensitive metalloproteins

Resolving polymorphs and radiation-driven effects in microcrystals using fixed-target serial synchrotron crystallography

High-throughput structures of protein–ligand complexes at room temperature using serial femtosecond crystallography



Professor Dave Kelly

Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology