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UNCG professor's $3.5M research aims to solve one of the world's biggest problems

UNCG's Dr. Hemali Rathnayake's nanoscience research has attracted students from Ghana, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and India.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — College is tough enough, but hats off to students who travel half the globe for school! Four ambitious, brave, and passionate young adults did that to join the work of one UNCG professor. 

"Some of my students are from Nigeria, Ghana, India, and Sri Lanka," Dr. Hemali Rathnayake, UNCG Associate Professor of Nanoscience, said. "All those countries have a scarcity of freshwater."

These students left their home countries and flew to Greensboro to join Rathnayake's research. Research that has received $3.5 million in funding.

"I'm here to purify water bodies for our community," a student from Ghana said.

One of Rathnayake's research projects uses nanoscience, which is science on a microscopic scale, to efficiently clean drinking water. All of these students share the same experience as their professor growing up with little freshwater.

"Growing up in India as a child, I used to go on a motorcycle with my dad," another student shared. "I used to sit on the back of his motorbike and always wonder: there's so much pollution and people don't care."

"Sometimes you have to walk miles to find a well and everyone does not have their own well," Rathnayake said.

Knowing this research could make a difference at home, these students came to Greensboro with a heart for change. 

"I'm very, very grateful because I'm passing through a learning process and it's gradual, but I'm enjoying every bit of it," a student from Nigeria said.

"When I look back, I feel like this as though this was not the same me, then I came in," another student added. "The confidence I built up being in the lab and learning new things."

However, this student says it was not always a walk in the park.

"Going out of your comfort zone, you don't like the transition, but Dr. Hemali Rathnayake always pushes and says 'you can do it,'" she adds.

    

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