NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNITED STATES – After seeing children in India drinking dirty water from a stagnant pool, Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old high school student from Nashua, New Hampshire decided, in her words, “to find a solution to the global water crisis.” She made progress towards that goal, developing a solar-powered water purification system and winning $25000 in The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2012.
Her innovative, cost effective and sustainable water-purification system, which harnesses solar energy to disinfect contaminated water, could help improve the lives of the 1.1 billion people around the world who lack access to clean drinking water.
Kurup gave up vacations and summer camp to spend three months toiling on the project. Leafing through PhD papers, speaking daily with her 3M mentor and conducting independent tests in her backyard with contaminated water from her local wastewater treatment facility lead her to a solution. Her system exposes titanium oxide and zinc oxide to sunlight, creating a chemical reaction that generates hydroxyl radicals, which in turn can kill harmful bacteria.
Kurup tested her system and discovered that water which had gone through her composite–which costs about half a cent per gram–had significantly fewer coliform units and E.Coli colonies in a matter of hours.
With further development over the following 3 years, the project has won the Stockholm Water Prize in 2014 and the National Geographic Award at the Google Science Fair in 2015.