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International Development Research @ Cambridge


Drinking Water; Water and Sanitation; Bacterial Contamination; Food safety; Department of Chemistry; School of Physical Sciences

Tianheng Zhao is a PhD student at the Bio-Inspired Photonics Laboratory at the Department of Chemistry and at King's College and a member of the Synthetic Biology @ Cambridge Strategic Research Initiative. He is also the co-founder of WaterScope, a not-for-profit initiative that uses low-cost and open-source technology for rapid water testing and disease diagnostics together with Dr Alex Patto, Dr Nalin Patel, Dr Richard Bowman and Sammy Maudi.  

Tianheng’s research focuses on using sustainable and environmental friendly chemicals – cellulose and cellulose derivatives – to make advanced bio-inspired photonic materials. Those materials not only have vivid colours but also show great potential in food safety sensing and diagnostics.

Tianheng’s motivation to positively impact the lives of the world’s poorest 3 billion people is also mirrored by his work at WaterScope. WaterScope aims to provide low-cost, fast and user-friendly water testing kits to people lack access to clean drinking water, which is critical to solve the water crisis that 10% of world population suffer from. Using a 3D-printed microscope, bacterial contamination can be identified over 10x faster than current field tests available. Additionally, simplified bacterial collection and data analysis methods allow the tests to be conducted by anybody, in any location.

Tianheng motivation to join Cambridge Global Challenges stems from the belief that a community of people with different resources, capabilities and experiences provides the best possible opportunity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, which can improve humankind’s well-being. Tianheng hopes that that Cambridge Global Challenges’s community will accelerate the process of delivering positive impact form the laboratory to the world. 

Welcome to Cambridge Global Challenges

Cambridge Global Challenges is the Strategic Research Initiative (SRI) of the University of Cambridge that aims to enhance the contribution of its research towards addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with a particular focus on the poorest half of the world’s population.


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