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The MIT Lab Flushing Out a City's Secrets


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Luigi takes the plunge.

Researchers in the Underworlds project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are retrieving and studying untreated sewage for insights on human health.

Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers involved in the "Underworlds" project believe analyzing the contents of sewage could provide scientists with new insights into human health.

"Our hypothesis is that contaminated water, before it gets to the treatment plant, has an imprint of all the human activities that are going on--in the sewage," says MIT professor Eric Alm.

Part of the project focused on designing a robot to collect samples from sewers. MIT's Senseable City Lab created Luigi, a long tube-like instrument complete with removable filters that can be suspended from a bar across the manhole and lowered into the depths of the sewers. "As soon as we turn it on it goes down [and] it samples for a set amount of time," says Underworlds project lead Newsha Ghaeli. She notes Luigi is controlled with an iPhone app.

The team recently sampled sewers around Cambridge and is now working in Boston. They think analyzing a city's wastewater could enable outbreaks to be anticipated, antibiotic resistance to be mapped, and public health interventions to be monitored in near-real time.

From The Guardian
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