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Girl designs solar water purifier that generates electricity

Cynthia Lam creates H2PRO water purifier and hydrogen electric generator
Cynthia Lam

Young inventor Cynthia Lam, a 17-yr-old from Melbourne, Australia, has developed a device she calls H2PRO. It sterilizes waste water with titania and sunlight and in theory can create electricity with the hydrogen produced. It could become life-changing for people living in parts of the world with no access to pure drinking water and/or electricity. It made Cynthia one of the 2014 Google Science Fair 15 global finalists.

Basically, its upper part is for photocatalytic water-purification and generating hydrogen. The bottom part filters the water even more. Cynthia found the organic pollutant removal capability excellent as it decomposes 90 percent of the water's organic pollutants within two hours. It also not only decomposes the organic pollutants but enhances the reaction rate for hydrogen yield. In photocatalysis, water is split producing hydrogen and oxygen.

The researcher's conclusions say she is not satisfied with the energy generation and is still working on it. A hydrogen fuel cell has an anode and a cathode separated by an electrolyte membrane where oxygen passes over the cathode and hydrogen over the anode on which a catalyst reacts with the hydrogen. It is converted to electrons that create electric current as they move through a wire, and to hydrogen ions that go through the membrane to the cathode. There the ions react with oxygen and electrons forming water. For all the illustrated technical details view the Google Science Fair website.

Cynthia writes about herself that she was inspired by Rita Levi-Montalcini's perseverance in science. She thought she was too young to invent anything herself until April 2013 when she began research on photocatalysis and titania. She investigated different conditions of using it to generate hydrogen and won the Major Bursary in Victoria's Science Talent Search. She wants to study medicine or environmental science to help people in need and to "raise the awareness of the importance of clean water and electricity in underdeveloped countries."

Her resulting H2PRO is affordable, self-sustainable, portable and feasible for purifying water and generating electricity. Other designs require too complex technology or an external energy source making them unmanageable in poor areas. Hydrogen production in the H2PRO is low, but organic pollutants and added reductants can increase hydrogen yield and lower the hydrogen generation cost.

A book which encourages girls to go into scientific research is Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women to be read by girls aged 8 years and up. A book for parents and teachers of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to read to foster creative thinking with simple projects is Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors.

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