By Samuel Glasser
Two Manhasset High School seniors had a once-in-a-lifetime experience in late August when they won the top prize in an international competition that addresses water, development and sustainability issues.
Rachel Chang and Ryan Thorpe were presented with the prestigious Stockholm Junior Water Prize by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden at the Stockholm International Water Institute’s annual global conference.
They were awarded the prize for their development of a system that detects and purifies water contaminated by shigella, e. coli, salmonella and cholera bacteria.
The system is designed to be submerged in a well, making it particularly useful in developing countries, or it can be inserted in distribution pipes to monitor water quality, the students said.
“The research is groundbreaking in its simplicity,” Charles Leone, the Manhasset school district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told the school board at its meeting last Thursday, where Chang and Thorpe were recognized for their accomplishment.
Superintendent Vincent Butera said Chang and Thorpe’s achievement embodies “so much of what is special in terms of intellect, dedication and passion reflecting so well on themselves, their families and their school.”
The students said their system uses biosensors consisting of graphene, a form of carbon related to graphite, and certain enzymes that correlate to specific bacteria.
When the bacteria come in contact with the enzymes, an electrical signal is triggered that indicates the presence of bacteria in the water. The purification system uses microprocessors to inject chemicals into the water that kill the bacteria.
Chang and Thorpe’s road to Stockholm began when they were granted a special award at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair, said Alison Huenger, their adviser and a science teacher at Manhasset High School.
They then submitted their project to the state level of the water prize competition in May and went on to the nationals in June, where they were chosen to represent the U.S. in a competition against 32 other countries in Stockholm.
The Stockholm International Water Institute says the junior water prize competition encourages young people’s interest in water and environment issues. The prize is given for an outstanding water project by a young person or a small group of young people.
In Stockholm, Chang and Thorpe were the guests of honor of the Swedish royalty at their Royal Ball, and were also honored at the adult version of the competition hosted by water institute, Leone said.
In a note to the school staff, Leone said “the judges that I spoke to were absolutely floored that this project was not only conducted by high school students, but they were highly impressed that this project was conducted in a high school lab.” He added that other senior officials of the conference said it “is one of the top projects that they have seen at the competition and that it has true potential for the developing and developed world.”
At the board meeting, Chang said they were now thinking of taking out a patent and testing their system “in the real world.”
In other business, Butera said the district’s construction projects are essentially on schedule. The high school band room will open on Sept. 18, the new kitchen at the Munsey Park elementary school cafeteria would start serving hot meals on Sept. 8, and the new high school cafeteria will open after the Christmas break.
The projects are part of the $22.6 million capital plan approved in 2014 along with a $19.9 million bond issue.