Rachel Chang and Ryan Thorpe of Manhasset High School, have won the world’s most prestigious competition for water-related research for their novel approach to detect and purify water contaminated with bacteria.
Chang and Thorpe were awarded the 2017 Stockholm Junior Water Prize on Aug. 29 in Stockholm for their project that judges believe could prevent waterborne diseases and expand potable water throughout the world. In July, the Manhasset Press published a story on the duo’s national win in North Carolina. As winners of that competition, they represented the United States in the international competition.
When asked how she felt about winning the prize, Chang said, “It feels absolutely incredible, I still feel like I’m dreaming. It’s really the best feeling in the world. To be able to share that moment with our families, our amazing research teacher Ms. Alison Huenger and new friends from around the world is something I will cherish forever.”
Upon asking their parents about how they felt as parents of two such talents students, Brendan Thorpe said, “Collectively, we cannot be more proud of their accomplishments to date and the winning of this prestigious award.”
Noting that waterborne diseases cause 3.4 million deaths annually, Chang and Thorpe constructed a system that detects and purifies water contaminated with E. coli., Salmonella, Cholera and Shigella more rapidly and sensitively than conventional methods. Their system detects as little as one reproductive bacteria colony per litre instantaneously and eliminates bacterial presence in approximately 10 seconds. In contrast, conventional methods have detection limits of up to 1,000 colonies and take one to two days.
“The winners used fundamental science and an eloquent way to address pathogenic bacteria in drinking water,” said Victoria Dyring, chair of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize jury. “The project has the potential to revolutionize the future of water quality. The winners displayed exceptional intelligence, enthusiasm, and passion for water and human health.”
The Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition is organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute and sponsored by Xylem Inc., and brings together the world’s brightest young scientists to encourage their continued interest in water and the environment. Thousands of students in countries all over the globe participated in competitions for the chance to represent their nation at the international final held during World Water Week in Stockholm. Teams from 33 countries were represented in the competition. Chang and Thorpe earned the trip by winning the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize in June. In the U.S., the Water Environment Federation and its Member Associations organize the national, state and regional competitions with support from Xylem Inc.
Allison Heunger, science research teacher at Manhasset High School said, “I am incredibly proud of Ryan and Rachel’s success at the prestigious Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition. I am in awe of this whole experience. It was heartwarming to see them announced as the winners and given the award by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. They are genuine students who strive for success in everything they do and deserve excellence. It was also wonderful being able to converse with all of the judges after the closure of the competition and hear such great feedback from these water professionals who were in awe that two high school students designed and engineered this project in their high school lab. This was an remarkable experience which will surely open the doors for future opportunities for Ryan and Rachel and I couldn’t be more proud!” Huenger was married just a few days before the competition and flew to Stockholm with her new husband to be with her students at the competition.
“WEF is extremely proud of Rachel and Ryan, who have impressed us with their intelligence and interest in protecting our precious water resources,” said Eileen O’Neill, WEF executive director. “All of the students in this competition give us great confidence in the future of water science and research.”
The prize was awarded to Chang and Thorpe by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, the patron of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and included $15,000.
When asked if the team filed a patent on the process Chang replied, “We’re in the process now. We hadn’t really thought about it before—we never dreamed that this system actually had the potential to make it in the real world. We’re definitely working on it now!”