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Atmospheric water capture through passive cooling


The development of a theoretical model of atmospheric water capture, opening up the possibility of a new reliable source of water.


Dr Tristram Alexander, Professor Chiara Neto.

Research location

School of Physics

Program type



Water is becoming an increasingly precious, and scarce, resource. A recently funded Sydney Nano Grand Challenge proposes to tackle this problem by capturing water directly from the atmosphere. However, there are significant theoretical challenges to be overcome before any successful implementation. Heat exchange occurs between water-laden air and any water capture surface, and this will depend on local flow conditions. At the same time, the ability to cool a surface will depend on the atmospheric conditions, and also on how the water is captured. The interplay of these myriad physical processes is still poorly understood. This project will examine the interplay of these effects, and ultimately determine how best to optimise a surface for water capture. This will inform the experimental investigations in the Grand Challenge, and open up a new pathway for harvesting water in dry conditions. 

The possibility of harvesting water from the atmosphere, through dew collection, has been widely studied using macroscopic physical models [1], however this approach is strongly limited by local atmospheric conditions. Recent experiments have demonstrated surfaces that can cool well below ambient temperatures through radiative cooling [2], however the possibility of combining water capture with passive radiative cooling has received little attention. The challenge is that local surface dynamics have a strong effect on the water capture dynamics [3], while the interaction of the surface with the atmosphere at the macroscopic scale also has a significant effect. This project will seek to develop a model capturing this interplay of microscopic and macroscopic physical effects and so identify how best to proceed with any practical implementation of a water capture device. 

[1] H. Vuollekoski et al., "Estimates of global dew collection potential on artificial surfaces", Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 19, 601 (2015). [2] M.M. Houssain and M. Gu, "Radiative Cooling: Principles, Progress, and Potentials", Adv. Sci. 3, 1500360 (2016). [3] D. Niu and G.H. Tang, "The effect of surface wettability on water vapor condensation in nanoscale", Sci. Rep. 6, 19192 (2016).

Additional information

This project sits within the Sydney Nano Grand Challenge "Advanced Capture of Water from the Atmosphere (ACWA)". As such a successful project applicant will have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of researchers from across the University, and may be eligible for supplementary funding. 

HDR Inherent Requirements  

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:   

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;  
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);  
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;  
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);  
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;  
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);  
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;  
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;  
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;  
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)   

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 2693

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