When most of us were teenagers, we were more worried about an embarrassing outbreak of acne or who to ask to homecoming than the challenges of developing nations. After witnessing children in India drinking from a stagnant pool of water, 14 year-old Deepika Kurup from Nashua, New Hampshire was inspired to help “find a solution to the global water crisis.” After much research, she developed a solar-powered purification system in her backyard that eventually earned her a $25,000 award from the The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Entering while she was still in the 7th grade, she took first place in the competition. So, just how does this ingenious invention work?

After spending three months pouring over PhD papers during her vacation, speaking with her 3M mentor, and testing her inventions with contaminated water from the Nashua wastewater treatment facility, Deepika Kurup came up with a system that could cheaply and easily purify water containing harmful bacteria. Her process involves exposing titanium oxide and zinc oxide to sunlight, which initiates a chemical reaction that forms hydroxyl radicals and super oxides. These compounds are able to oxidize organic substances into water and carbon dioxide.

After counting the levels of coliform bacteria before and after she applied her system with 3M Petrifilms, she found that her system had significantly reduced the amount of coliforms from 8,000 down to 50 and E. coli from more than 1,000 down to none in less than 8 hours. In one hour, she was also able to degrade methane blue, oxidizing it faster that most current processes. Unlike most purification methods that rely on UV lamps that require electricity, nasty chemicals, or pricey filtration systems, Kurup’s composite which also incorporates cement and 3M Glass Bubbles, costs half a cent per gram. Applied through both a photocatalytic rod and reflector film, she was able to achieve this amazing results with an amazing amount of efficiency and consistency.

Now high school freshman, Kurup hopes to apply for a patent for her system and start a nonprofit to help deploy her innovation. Passionate about science, she is striving towards becoming a neurologist.

+ The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge