As teenagers, most of us cared more about say, a humiliating acne outbreak or which classmate we’d ask to homecoming, rather than the difficulties of developing countries. When she watched some Indian children drinking from a pool of stagnant water, Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old living in Nashua, New Hampshire made it her goal to help “find a solution to the global water crisis”.
After thorough research, she finally invented a purification system powered by solar energy in her own backyard that resulted in her winning The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge when she was a 7th grader, thus earning her $25,000. Just how does her brilliant invention work though?
After studying PhD papers over her three-month vacation, consulting with her 3M mentor and trying out her prototypes with samples from the contaminated water of the Nashua wastewater treatment facility, she devised an inexpensive and easy way to purify water contaminated by harmful bacteria.
This happens when zinc oxide and titanium oxide are exposed to sunlight to start a chemical reaction leading to the formation of superoxides and hydroxyl radicals which oxidize organic compounds into carbon dioxide and water.
When she used her system of 3M Petrifilms to purify the water, she saw that the amount of coliform bacteria reduced from 8,000 to about 50 whereas E. coli bacteria reduced to zero from about 1000 in under 8 hours. Also, she could degrade methane blue in an hour, which is faster than most present oxidizing processes.
Kurup’s composite which is also made up of 3M Glass Bubbles and cement has a low price of half a cent whereas majority of current processes are more expensive, such as electricity-consuming UV lams, harmful chemicals and other costly filtration systems. Using a reflector film and a photocatalytic rod, she consistently and efficiently achieved these surprising results.
Kurup, now in high school, plans to patent her system and then begin a non-profit organization to distribute her invention. Her passion in science is pushing her towards her goal of becoming a neurologist.