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Rohit Karnik is Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he leads the Microfluidics and Nanofluidics Research Group. His research focuses on the physics of micro- and nanofluidic flows and design of micro- and nanofluidic devices for applications in healthcare, energy systems, and bioanalysis. He obtained his B.Tech. degree from the Indian Institute of Technology at Bombay in 2002, and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 2006 under the guidance of Prof. Arun Majumdar. After postdoctoral work with Prof. Robert Langer, he joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT in 2007. Among other honors, he is a recipient of the Institute Silver Medal (IIT Bombay, 2002), NSF Career Award (2010), Keenan Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Education (2011), DOE Early Career Award (2012), and IIT Bombay Young Alumni Achiever Award (2014).
The Karnik group is working towards development of low-cost water filters using a plant tissue known as xylem. Plant xylem carries sap from the roots to leaves and comprises microscopic conduits separated by membranes with nanoscale porosity. This tissue can be easily isolated and made into a filter. The group’s previous work showed that the number of bacteria can be reduced by 4-log (99.99%) or more with a single filtration step. Xylem based water filters have the potential for local manufacture without use of specialized processing, resulting in organic, non-chemical, disposable filters that could significantly lower the cost of point-of-use water purifiers and make clean water available to people who do not have access to it today.