Rachel Chang and Ryan Thorpe will represent the nation at the international competition in Stockholm, Sweden, in August
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has announced that Rachel Chang and Ryan Thorpe, both of Manhasset, New York, have won the 2017 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) — the nation’s most prestigious youth competition for water-related research.
With a project to detect and purify water contaminated by bacteria, Chang and Thorpe won $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm to represent the United States at the international competition in late August.
Students from 48 states and Puerto Rico competed in the national finals June 16-17 at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The Stockholm Junior Water Prize aims to increase students’ interest in water issues, research and careers, as well as to raise awareness about global water challenges. The competition is open to projects focused on improving water quality, water resource management, water protection, and drinking water and wastewater treatment.
In their winning paper, “A Novel Approach to Rapidly and Sensitively Detect and Purify Water Contaminated with Shigella, E. coli, Salmonella and Cholera,” Chang and Thorpe note that waterborne diseases cause 3.4 million deaths annually, concentrated in countries lacking sanitary water.
Chang and Thorpe engineered a system to efficiently detect and purify bacterial presence in a more rapid time frame with a lower detection limit than conventional methods. Graphene was used to create four specific biosensors through the immobilization of specific enzymes that target analytes released during the respiratory cycles of model organisms for salmonella, Shigella, cholera and E. coli. The system successfully detected minute levels of bacteria in a rapid time frame and purified the water of pathogens.
“The scientific approach used was excellent and allowed Chang and Thorpe to develop high-quality, reproducible data,” says Jeannette Brown, chair of the SJWP Review Committee. “The process they developed is simple and rapid and can be used in both developed and developing countries to ensure safe drinking water. This was an outstanding project.”
The two U.S. runners-up were Ana Humphrey of Alexandria, Virginia, and Apoorv Khandelhal of Sammamish, Washington, who each received $1,000. Luca Barcelo of Greenwich, Connecticut, received the Bjorn von Euler Innovation in Water Scholarship Award from Xylem Inc.
“WEF is very proud to shine a spotlight on some of our country’s brightest high school students, who impress us all with their innovative projects that focus on protecting our precious water resources,” says WEF Executive Director Eileen O’Neill. “These students give us great confidence in the future of water science and research.”
In the U.S., WEF and its Member Associations organize the regional, state, and national competitions with support from Xylem Inc., who also sponsors the international competition.