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Local teen nabs prestigious Stockholm Junior Water Prize


Catlin Gabel sophomore confronts water pollution issue

Anirudh Jain has always enjoyed the practical side of science.

“I believe you can use science to solve real-world problems,” the Catlin Gabel School sophomore said. “I’ll look for a problem in my environment, and I’ll try to think of a way I should solve it, and I’ll do research on that.”

For his sixth-grade science fair project, that meant tackling a common household complaint: garbage odor. When he found out that many hospitals use ultraviolet lights to kill the bacteria responsible for offensive smells, he decided to replicate their methods.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Anirudh Jain

“He built a little trashcan with a UVC light,” his father, Ashu, explained. “He actually managed to prove if you built a trashcan with UVC light, it actually kills about 90 percent of the bacteria.”

“And of course we had to suffer the consequences of the trash building up in the garage,” his mother, Gitanjali, recalled with a laugh.

Still, she was pleased with her son’s pragmatism. With her own background in grant-writing for nonprofits, Gitanjali said, “I’ve always tried to encourage him to come up with something that could help the Third World.”

She added that coming from northwest India, a shortage of clean drinking water has always been in the back of her mind. This issue made it into discussions Anirudh enjoys often with his younger brother, Arjun — and the problem/solution basis of Anirudh’s passion for science earned the young Beaverton scientist a trip to Stockholm, Sweden.

To begin confronting water pollution, Anirudh did what he’s always done: He started with a problem.

“Certain nanoparticles are incorporated into consumer products because of their excellent microbial properties,” he explained. “Sometimes these products are used in athletic wear. When they’re washed and used often, these nanoproducts are escaping and the wastewater treatment plants do not currently have any process to deal with this. (The nanoparticles) have an adverse effect on the environment. They’re extremely toxic.”

“Basically, what I wanted to try to define was a method to reduce the toxicity in the wastewater treatment plant so they would not be harmful in the environment,” he said.

He understood that by exposing some nanoparticles to sulfides, he could reduce toxicity.

“So then it basically gets rid of the nanoparticle pollution,” he said. “The sulfides render them not toxic.”

He had experimented with this in seventh grade, using silver sulfides to purify water. But he knew that some of the materials in the filter could themselves be toxic.

This time around, he says, “I found a way to catch the silver nanoparticle solution. I found a way to detect it, I actually found a way to stop the pollution itself.”

For his work, Anirudh was named the 2013 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize winner and awarded a $10,000 college scholarship. The week of Aug. 31, he will travel with his science teacher, Veronica Ledoux, to Sweden, where he will compete in the week-long international contest.

“He’s a joy to teach, always curious to explore and understand the world around him, always questioning and unfailingly modest,” Ledoux said. “His scientific research accomplishments are a great example of how letting kids follow their own scientific curiosity keeps them engaged and can lead to novel ideas and exciting scientific findings.”

Anirudh’s tenacity is evident not only in his work, but in his attempts to reach out to the scientific community around him, even while he’s still in high school. According to his mother, he’s sent out more than 30 emails to professors and researchers in the area, looking for mentorship or just a little lab space.

In the meantime, Anirudh looks forward to his hard-earned, working vacation in Scandinavia.

“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing all the great international projects there,” he said. “Just looking at the national fair, I was astounded by the quality of the projects there. The international fair should be even better.”