Deepika Kurup, a 14 year-old girl who was awarded the $25,000 prize in The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, is living proof of how nurturing talent can help young, bright people go very far. While still in the 8th grade, Kurup viable solution for the global water crisis and invented a water purification system that runs on solar energy, making it thus grid independent, and significantly reduces bacteria contamination. It’s believed dirty water kills 5,000 children each day, while 1.1 billion people do not have safe water and 2.6 billion suffer from inadequate sewerage.
In coming years, the clean water crisis will worsen according to experts, which makes it paramount that new, effective solution must be introduced. Luckily, there’s some top talent working on the world’s problems. Kurup spent three months toiling away at the project, foregoing vacations and summer camp to leaf through PhD papers about water purification methods. Aided by her 3M mentor, she tested various designs and setups in her own backyard in Nashua, New Hampshire, using highly contaminated water sourced from the Nashua wastewater treatment facility.
Eventually, Kurup settled for a titanium oxide and zinc oxide system which when exposed to sun light chemically reaction that produces hydroxyl radicals. These compounds kill much of the harmful bacteria found in dirty water (the kind you see in many areas across India; sites which inspired Kurup to do something about it while on a trip in the developing country) like coliform units and E.Coli colonies. The purification takes only a few hours while the composites only cost half a cent per gram.
Most mainstream water purification systems involve exposing bacteria to UV lighting, but this requires electricity and in many remotes and unfavorable areas of the world this is not an option. Other alternatives involve adding various chemicals in water that react to form products that kill microbes, at the same time however this also makes the water taste and smell really nasty. Kurup’s system preserves fresh water taste and smell.
Naturally, Kurup doesn’t intend on stopping here.
“My next step is applying for a patent,” she says. “I want to start a nonprofit organization to deploy my innovation.”