The Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) youth competition gathers high-school students from across the globe with the singular goal of addressing water challenges. SJWP already has the 2017 U.S. winners, Rachel Chang and Ryan Thorpe, thinking about their futures. Before they attended the international competition in Stockholm, W&WD Associate Editor Lauren Baltas spoke with Chang and Thorpe about their competition experience and how it influences their goals.
Lauren Baltas: Tell me about your project. How to do see it growing in the future?
Rachel Chang: Basically, we created a system to detect and purify water that’s contaminated by waterborne pathogens. I really wanted to be able to create a device that would allow people to know if their water is safe to drink, and, if not, purify it to make it sanitary. We were able to detect one colony of each bacteria in a liter of water instantaneously, and the purification process could be completed in about 10 seconds.
Ryan Thorpe: I was inspired to create this project because when I was a freshman, I read a lot about different biosensors for the detection of all different materials. Back then, I also had read about water scarcity and how many articles state that the next global conflict will be fought over water availability. Hoping to combine these two interests I had, I began research, and through many hours of discovery, this project was born.
Chang: In the future, I think our project can be used in both the developed and developing world. It could be placed in a water source in the developing world, like a well, in order to continually monitor bacterial presence in their water. Or, in the developed world, it could be formatted into a cylinder and placed into pipes in an industrial setting. I think that our system can help people from all over the world.
Baltas: If there is one thing you could teach someone about water, what would it be?
Chang: I would say that water is sacred and that we all have our role to play in preserving it. Out of all the water in the world, only 0.007% of it is available and accessible to humans. Water not only impacts our health, but also society, politics and the economy, too. We can’t be wasteful. Little things can make a big difference, like not leaving the water running when you brush your teeth or making sure that the faucet isn’t dripping in your house. Everyone, not just scientists, can work together to make sure that our environment is sustainable.
Thorpe: The solution exists. I really do think that almost all problems have a solution, and I think water is one of those problems that has a solution—so be the person that finds it. It will take a lot of sleepless nights, hours of research, numerous failures and moments of disappointment, but the solution is there. Find it.
Baltas: What career paths are you considering?
Chang: I would love to continue working in the field of environmental engineering. I really love engineering, because I feel like it’s all about innovating and creating something to benefit society. Our environment is really at risk right now, and I want to keep fighting to protect the Earth and its resources.
Thorpe: In the future, I hope to be an engineering entrepreneur. I want to design products, systems and materials that have real tangible benefit on humankind and alleviate some form of constraint or problem that people face. With this in mind, I hope to stay in the field of water, so that I might be able to engineer all sorts of designs to benefit water, and get these designs out to the people that need them most.
Youth competitions like SJWP provide opportunities for students to not only become involved with water research, but also engage with other students that have similar interests and different backgrounds. In an increasingly globalized world, these connections are invaluable for young academics. The final competition brings students from various cultures together with a universal focus on water issues.
“I think it will be amazing just meeting people from around the world—people who I’ve never met before, people who might not even speak the same language as I do—who all have a passion for improving the environment,” Chang said.
The local competitions build these relationships, which only expand with time and involvement in the event. Nearly everyone in the water industry knows one thing to be true—it is a community.
“I’m so excited to maintain the network of people I met at the competition, as they will surely go out and do significant things one day, and I hope that I will be able to join them in that effort,” Thorpe said.
Rachel Chang is a rising senior at Manhasset High School in Long Island, N.Y. Chang is the concertmistress of both the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York and Manhasset High School’s Symphony Orchestra. Chang seeks to pursue a career in environmental engineering. Ryan Thorpe also is a rising senior at Manhasset High School. Thorpe is a cross-country and track runner, a musician and a founding member of the Manhasset Historical Society. Thorpe seeks to continue his education in the field of electrical engineering. Chang can be reached at email@example.com, and Thorpe can be reached at [email protected].