Lately it seems like all the news relating to teens is bad news. Of course, most news is bad news; that’s just how journalism works nowadays. Still, it’s a little disheartening when most of what I read about teens in the US seems to be related to drugs, sex, or violence.
So it’s incredibly refreshing – not to mention inspiring – to read about Deepika Kurup, a now 15-year-old girl from Nashua, New Hampshire, who made it her mission to find a solution to the global water crisis. With almost one billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water, it’s an enormous task – but Deepika brought us closer with her invention of a solar-powered water purification system.
After witnessing children drinking from a stagnant pool, Deepika decided to do something other than share articles and our outrage on Facebook like the rest of us. After three months, tons of stuffy PhD papers, daily conversations with her mentor, and backyard experiments, Deepika came up with cheap, green, and easy-to-use way to purify water. She then submitted it to the 2012 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a national science competition for middle school students, which she won at the ripe old age of fourteen.
Sure, there are other methods. But UV lamps require electricity, and chemicals used to purify water leave it tasting and smelling terrible, while Deepika’s method results in fresh-tasting water without the electricity that is so scarce in countries like India.
Her system uses two chemicals – zinc oxide and titanium oxide – which create a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight that produces hydroxyl radicals, which in turn kill certain types of bacteria in infected water, making it safe to drink. She does have some competition from a device called LifeStraw, but I think we’ll see more from her in the future.
In the meantime, inventing this game-changing device was only step one for Deepika. She says that her next step is applying for a patent, and after that, starting a nonprofit organization to deploy her invention. And she’s more than just talking the talk. Her reward for winning the science competition – in addition to meeting the POTUS and earning the title of America’s Top Young Scientist – was $25,000, part of which she plans to use to make sure her water filtration system gets past the drawing room and into the hands of people who need it.
If children are our future, I’m glad there are teens like Deepika out there.