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February, 13th 2011

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Brian_ShellBy Brian Shell

What does it mean to make a Smarter Planet? One aspect of our planet that we’ve got to get a lot “Smarter” about soon is water management. The UN reports that about 2.8 billion people lack access to basic sanitation, and in the face of climate change things certainly aren’t improving.

As a student studying environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University, I’m exposed to issues in the realm of water management in my classes each day. As I proceed on the quest to find an internship for this summer, I am beginning my professional journey into this field.  I feel fortunate to be coming from a place like Johns Hopkins that is so steeped in history in the water management realm.

For those of us engaged in the water industry there is probably one name that is most iconic: Wolman. The first time I heard the Wolman name was when I received my housing assignment for my freshman year here at Hopkins: Wolman Hall. I soon learned all about Abel Wolman’s achievements in bringing chlorination and safe drinking water to cities and communities worldwide in my environmental engineering classes. Of course chlorination itself was not Wolman’s innovation – it had been used for years to kill bacteria. The problem was that it sometimes killed people, too. Wolman developed a formula that, based on chemical and other data, safely and exactly controlled the amount of chlorine to be used in municipal water treatment. Abel Wolman’s achievement has often been referred to as the most significant public health achievement of all.

So now I guess the question is, where is the future of water management? And how do I, hopefully, fit into that framework? To help answer this question, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Cameron Brooks, who is Director of Smarter Water Management at IBM.

Dr. Brooks has a long history at IBM – taking on four different projects throughout his career with the company – including work on the Blue Gene supercomputer.   Today he’s Director of the Smarter Water initiative. He credits IBM’s culture as being the supportive element that allows them to pursue a topic that was not part of IBM’s original portfolio. This was an element echoed in Sam Palmisano’s speech here at Johns Hopkins earlier this month – when the audience learned that IBM once made cheese slicers, you could certainly see the wheels turning in the minds of all there.

I think there are interesting parallels to be drawn between the way Wolman’s formula was able to calculate chlorination necessary based on parameters available and the sensor and analytics aspects of IBM’s water management software solutions. In the same way that Wolman took something that was available – chlorination – and made it better, made it easier to use, made it safer, IBM’s taking sensors and equipment that already exist – and taking the different data streams coming from this technology to make meaningful management decisions that will help to make the world a smarter place.

Brian Shell is a junior studying environmental engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. His interests surround the interface between clean water, technology, and the developing world.  You can connect up with Brian at Hopkins Interactive – a social media Web site designed to enable prospective and admitted students to Johns Hopkins to connect with the University by offering them open, uncensored information about student life on campus and in Baltimore.

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February 13, 2011
8:05 pm

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