An Indian-American student has found an easier and cheaper method to convert salt water into drinkable fresh water and his research has caught the attention of major universities and technology firms. Chaitanya Karamchedu from Portland, Oregon, is turning heads across the country all because of a science experiment that began in his high school classroom.
The Jesuit High School Senior told KPTV that he has big plans of changing the world. "1 in 8 people do not have access to clean water, it's acrying issue that needs to be addressed," said Karamchedu. He made up his mind to address the matter himself.
"The best access for water is the sea, so 70 per cent ofthe planet is covered in water and almost all of that is theocean, but the problem is that's salt water," said Karamchedu.
Isolating drinkable water from the ocean in a cost effective way is a problem that has stumped scientists for years. "Scientists looked at desalination, but it's all still inaccessible to places and it would cost too much to implementon a large scale," Karamchedu said.
Karamchedu figured it out, on his own, in a high school lab. "The real genesis of the idea was realising that seawater is not fully saturated with salt," he was quoted assaying. By experimenting with a highly absorbent polymer, theteen discovered a cost effective way to remove salt from oceanwater and turn it into fresh water.
"It's not bonding with water molecules, it's bonding to the salt," said Karamchedu. "People have been looking at the problem from one viewpoint, how do we break those bonds between salt and the water? Chai came in and thought about it from a completely different angle," said Jesuit High School Biology Teacher Dr. Lara Shamieh.
"People were concentrated on that 10 per cent of water that's bonded to the salt in the sea and no one looked at the 90 per cent that was free. Chai just looked at it and said if 10 per cent is bonded and 90 per cent is free, then why are weso focused on this 10 per cent, let's ignore it and focus onthe 90," Shamieh said.
It is a breakthrough that is estimated to impact millions of lives if ever implemented on a mass scale. "What this is compared to current techniques, is that it's cheap and accessible to everyone, everyone can use it," said Shamieh.
Scientists across the country are taking note. He won aUSD 10,000 award from the US Agency for International Global Development at Intel's International Science Fair and second place at MIT's Tech Con Conference where he won more money to continue his research.
"They were very encouraging, they could see things intoit that I couldn't, because they've been working their whole lives on this," said Karamchedu. Back in January, Karamchedu was also named one of 300Regeneron Science Talent Search Semifinalists. The STS is thought to be one of the most prestigious competitions in thecountry for high school seniors.