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Xiaolin Zheng: New benefits of combustion revealed

Humankind has prospered greatly from fire, but that doesn’t mean we know all its secrets.

Illustration of graphic red and pink flame-like shapes

Could combustion help purify water? | iStock/Andrei Filippov

Mechanical engineer Xiaolin Zheng really likes to burn things, but she is more like a modern-day Prometheus than a pyromaniac.

She uses combustion to create minute nanoparticles of various metal oxides that have many practical and valuable uses in today’s world.

For instance, she has created nanoparticles that can turn water into hydrogen peroxide using only energy from the sun. Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful disinfectant that kills microbes and removes other pollutants from water. Zheng imagines creating inexpensive, portable, solar-powered water purifiers to help the two to three billion people in the world who lack access to plentiful potable water.

Join host Russ Altman and Xiaolin Zheng for a fascinating look at the benefits of combustion.

You can listen to the Future of Everything on iTunes, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher or via Stanford Engineering Magazine.