Developing an improved test for bacterial water contamination

Organisation: WaterScope

Partners: Oxfam

Location: Cambridge, UK

Type of grant: Core – invention

Status: Ongoing

  • WaterScope’s proposition. With our method communities can test suspect drinking using our disposable cartridge and testing system. Results are achieved in less than 2 hours, with results displayed locally for community education and strategy, and also uploaded to a database for mapping, dissemination and intervention.

  • Robust prototype designed. All electronics and optics enclosed. The design is simpler decreasing assembly time while increasing reliability. B: Crop of an image taken with new microscope (left). Post-quantification images (right)of bacteria, taken with our microscope can identify bacteria as early as 60 mins; after 120 mins significant bacterial growth is observed.

  • Educational materials developed by WaterScope to use in schools. The set is a pack of ten A4 cards.

WaterScope is developing a fast, low-cost bacterial test utilising our small, inexpensive microscope that can detect single bacteria and produce quantitative results in less than two hours.


Globally there are 663 million people without access to safe drinking water. Waterborne diseases from bacterial pathogens result in over 2.2 million deaths every year. The vast majority of those affected are in rural communities, which rely on infrequent visits from water testing companies. Kits currently available to test for bacteria are time-consuming, require power, and cannot be used by scientifically unskilled workers. There is currently no integrated way to share test results meaning that we frequently lack the information required to bring clean water where it is most needed.


WaterScope has created a 3D-printed microscope which is considerably cheaper and more portable than existing microscopes. This can be used to detect growth faster than existing tests, producing quantitative results in less than two hours and allowing tests to be carried out on site, permitting operators to deliver a strategy to the community once the test is complete.

Permanent testing hubs can be established in communities to encourage a bottom-up approach to water testing, reducing reliance upon external aid to test their water sources, and empowering communities to create sustainable change. In conjunction the microscope can be used for educational purposes, enabling rural communities to better understand what contaminates their water so that they can work towards making their water safer.

Data from our tests will automatically upload onto a central database, allowing for real-time mapping and review, and immediate intervention if required.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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