PhD student project: Extended biostability of potable water through sustainable non-chemical trea...

September 13 2017
Life Sciences, Biology
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type


In nature, potable water is an open ecosystem in which the microbial community interacts with and responds to the environment. This results in a more or less biostable community that is susceptible to minute changes of its governing parameters, be they chemical, physical or biological. Artificial water distribution and storage systems often attack this issue by killing the ecosystem (disinfection) which significantly reduces water quality. This approach is not sustainable in general and is inapplicable for advanced applications such as manned space missions or extraterrestrial colonies. In an alternative, more sustainable and bionic approach, the aquatic microbiome is influenced by tailor-made electric, magnetic and/or mechanical fields in order to boost its viability and resilience. This research represents a field of emerging interest for the water industry since its application to existing water distribution systems is feasible and would allow the maintenance of high water quality from the source up to the point of use.

State of the art

Recently it has been shown that an electrohydrodynamic liquid bridge can be used as a means of understanding the influence of electrical fields on different organisms, a theory has been developed and tested experimentally1,2. Concerning the influence of magnetic fields the situation is not equally well understood: Strong field gradients have shown an impact on solvation dynamics of CaCO33 and the development of communities of water borne microorganisms4, but the hypothesis that these effects are connected via the bioavailability of CaCO3 still has to be tested. Finally, vortex treatment and its accompanying rapid change in dissolved gas content influences organisms as well on different levels, directly through biochemical-cellular mechanisms or destruction of the cellular integrity as well as indirectly due to changes of the medium which can enhance or repress the ability of microbial growth, biofilm formation and production of metabolites.

Research challenge

The goal of the project is to understand which influences impact microorganisms in which way and how one can use those influences to regulate and improve microbiological water quality. The combination of physical (impedance, PCS, etc.) micro- and molecular biological methods (culturing, PCR, NGS, etc.) should lead to a deeper understanding of the interaction between electromagnetic, physico-chemical environment and the aquatic microbiome. This should take place in natural environment, analyzing the effects on natural flora. For analyzing deeper effects on cellular mechanisms, standard laboratory strains will be exposed or cultivated in treated water based media. Based on this knowledge the development of an in-line water treatment device using EM fields and mechanical treatment for the regulation of microbial load will be attempted. The project will focus on understanding and investigating magnetic field and vortex treatment of tap water under laboratory conditions. Finally a feasibility study in an existing water distribution network using appropriate treatment devices will be carried out. Water distribution networks normally contain very few bacteria at the source but contain an ecosystem spanning throughout the rest of the network. The declared goal of this project is the purposeful, proper treatment of this ecosystem using magnetic fields, vortices, the addition of charged water or a combinations thereof in order to increase the water quality and the stability, resilience and viability of the network.


The research project is part of the Wetsus research theme Applied Water Physics.

The following companies are part of the theme: Brabant Water (, WLN (, IPF/Grander (, Schauberger Nature Technologies (, Integro (DE), H2MOTION ( and Coherent Water Systems (

Promotors: Dr. Astrid H. Paulitsch-Fuchs (MUG)

Wetsus Supervisors: Dr. Inez Dinkla, Dr. Elmar C. Fuchs

For more information contact Dr. Elmar C. Fuchs (


Wetsus, Leeuwarden, the Netherlands

1 A.H. Paulitsch-Fuchs, E. C. Fuchs, A.D. Wexler, F.T. Freund, L.J. Rothschild, A. Cherukupally and G.-J. W. Euverink, Prokaryotic transport in electrohydrodynamic structures, Phys. Biol. 9 (2012) 026006 (11pp)

2 A.H. Paulitsch-Fuchs, A. Zsohár, A.D. Wexler, A. Zauner, C. Kittinger, J. de Valença, E.C. Fuchs, Behavioral study of selected microorganisms in an aqueous electrohydrodynamic liquid bridge, BB Reports 10 (2017) 287-296

3 M. Sammer, C. Kamp, A.H. Paulitsch-Fuchs, A.D. Wexler, C.J.N. Buisman, E.C. Fuchs, Strong Gradients in Weak Magnetic Fields Induce DOLLOP Formation in Tap Water, Water 8 (2016) 79

4 A.H. Paulitsch-Fuchs, N. Stanulewicz, C.J.N. Buisman, E.C. Fuchs, Impact of induced DOLLOP formation on the microbiome of tap water, in preparation


This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess