This is a community grassroots initiative catalysed by the Future Water Institute, University of Cape Town, aimed at developing and using cheap, safe, user-friendly and robust tools for water quality analysis.

These tools are used:

  1. To test water quality of alternative water resources,
  2. For education, and
  3. In-the-field analysis for scientific research – frugal science.

Further, these tools help build a contextual understanding of how our actions and our environment impact water quality, building risk awareness into society.


Part of Water Sensitive Design is knowing what is going on in the water – analysis, monitoring, and possibly, depending on the context (like wastewater treatment) control. One way of finding this out is by submitting water samples to accredited laboratories (South African directory available on the SANAS website). But for rough quick answers, water quality analysis for education or in times of drought, and in-the-field analysis for our own research, we need a range of cheap, safe, user-friendly and robust solutions.
Testing water for drinking water quality is complicated, need many tests and a contextual understanding. There are several groups of components potentially present in water, each needing their own special test:
  • Pathogens
  • Turbidity
  • Colour
  • Tastes and odours
  • pH and alkalinity
  • Total dissolved solids
  • Hardness
  • Toxic inorganics
  • Nitrate
  • Sodium
  • Iron and Manganese
  • Organics
  • Corrosivity
This challenge is about water analysis, but it’s really about guiding the public to learn about water, the risks associated with water and equip ourselves in making our own risk assessments. When it comes to water analysis there is no silver bullet.
For in the field analysis we have specific criteria, like measuring specific metabolites (think lactic acid or pH for cheese making, for example, or alcohol and sugar content in beer brewing).

How does the challenge work?

Rather than have an annual competition with set annual prizes, we have specific challenges looking for solutions. We’re still working on the specific challenges and judging criteria (at time of writing November 2017). When a possible solution is submitted, we evaluate it with the criteria, test it out, and if it passes, we’ll get in touch with more info, and what sort of prize you would like from the range we have on offer – this is about building partnerships and incentivising innovation over the long-term!


  1.  Electronic: Sensors, Probes, ‘hacking’ – monitoring with e.g. Arduinos, Raspberry Pi’s, hacking, fixing, making new from old equipment. This includes smart probes: Online or sim-enabled remote probes that can sample/measure dissolved oxygen, pH, electrical conductivity, total disssolved solids, salinity and voltage (if it runs on battery/solar power)
  2. Biosensors: Using biology to give a qualitative or quantitative signal, including the miniSASS, microbial cell counts, enzyme based processes etc
  3. Green chemistry kits: aquarium kits, swimming pool tests, make your own kits, dedicated kits like the EarthEcho kit etc
    And a special category
  4. Photography: With special interest in the microscopic, using e.g. USB microscopes, the Foldscope – not just for analysis; also for pretty.

Judging Criteria

The specific challenges will have their own specific criteria, but overall the submissions will also be judged according to the following criteria:

  1. Robustness – how finicky is the solution? Do you need a working knowledge of black magic to keep it working?
  2. Repeatability – if we do the exact same thing three times, will we get the same answer?
  3. Range of operation – what concentration ranges (for example) does this solution work well in, is this a useful range?
  4. … probably more to come

Specific challenges


Producing bioproducts from waste, often means using sugars, or converting the waste into sugars and producing he bioproducts from that. Measuring sugars are difficult, often involving hazardous chemicals (see the DNS method) or expensive equipment like HPLCs. Can we do it better?

Metal ions, e.g. iron (Fe)

Groundwater and acid mine drainage are often contaminated with metals. We need to know what is in there to work with the water.

Do you have analysis challenges that need innovation? Let us know! 

How to enter

Submit your entry by emailing with Analysis Competition, and which Category you are addressing in the subject line

Prizes and contributing

Prizes will consist of in-kind offerings by relevant companies, like analysis, instrumentation, electronics, educational toys and gadgets. If you are such a company or want to contribute in any way…

Get in touch: email