Across the globe, nearly 40% of all food produced is lost to waste and spoilage.  Now, thanks to a group of ingenious elementary school students, at least one item in the fridge can let us know when it’s ready to buy the (dairy) farm. The 6th grade class of P.S. 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology has designed a milk jug that alerts consumers when its contents have spoiled, and the team has already won awards for their innovative design.

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Children are our future, but there are some budding young minds who are not content to wait until graduating before they make their mark on the world.  A bunch of 6th graders from P.S. 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology in Manhattan have created a brilliant pitcher that detects rotten milk.  Earlier this year, the students caught wind of a couple of news stories reporting that people in California were becoming ill after drinking spoiled or raw milk.  Zeroing in on the characteristic sour smell and taste of bad milk, they reasoned that they could use pH to analyze the freshness of milk while it’s still sitting inside the container.

Normal milk has a pH that sits in between 6.5 and 7.2, but once harmful bacteria are introduced, they change the pH, increasing its acidity from the waste they produce.  When the jug detects that the milk has reached a certain level of acidity, a light flashes near the top of the handle.  The jug also features a color-coded thermometer and a well-insulated body.  Future modifications to the prototype include adding an audible alarm and a sensor that only activates the warning lights when the container is outside the refrigerator.

“Making a pitcher that tells you if milk is bad or good would seem like the stuff of the future, but it can be made,” says Harry Freedman, one of the kids behind the smart pitcher.

Coach Hau-yu Chu and team won runner-up at the First Lego League Global Innovation Competition for their prototype.  The class traveled to Washington D.C earlier this year to accept the award.  They were given a grant of $5,000 from the X PRIZE Foundation to further develop their ideas.

+ P.S. 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology

Via NPR Science Friday