Explains CNN on March 29: "An e. You can write it with one fluid swoop of a pen or one tap of the keyboard. The most commonly used letter in the English dictionary. Simple, right? Now imagine it printed out millions of times on thousands of forms and documents. Then think of how much ink would be needed."
Teenager Suvir Mirchandani did just that, measuring the exact amount of ink that could be saved if the government just chose a different typeface for its thousands of standardized documents.
Suvir's government brainstorm started when his Pittsburgh-area Dorseyville Middle School put on a science fair, and Suvir was trying to think of some cost-effective measures.
CNN picks up the story:
Interested in applying computer science to promote environmental sustainability, Suvir decided he was going to figure out if there was a better way to minimize the constant flurry of paper and ink.
Reducing paper use through recycling and dual-sided printing had been talked about before as a way to save money and conserve resources, but there was less attention paid to the ink for which the paper served as a canvas for history and algebra handouts.
“Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume,” Suvir said.
He’s not too far off.
A Google shopping search for Chanel No.5 Eau de Toilette Spray of 1.7 ounces comes in at just over $50 bucks. A standard ink cartridge holds about 10 milliliters of ink and we’ll put the average cost of a new cartridge at $20.
One ounce contains about 30 ml. So for ink we’re paying about two bucks per ml, but for the 1.7 ounce (or 50 ml) bottle of perfume, we’re only paying about one dollar per ml.
CNN explains that Suvir started by analyzing samples of mandatory school handouts set by the state curriculum, and analyzed usage on the characters most commonly used in the English language – e, t, a, o and r.
Suvir used a commercial ink coverage software tool and actually measured the amount of ink used in enlarged fonts of Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans. Suvir graphed and even weighed the different fonts using precise detail and math that only a 14-year-old genius could know.
Sarah Fankhauser, a founder of Journal for Emerging Investigators – a Harvard-based forum for middle and high school students – said that Suvir’s work, though seemingly so basic, was a real standout.
“We were so impressed. We really could really see the real-world application in Suvir's paper,” Fankhauser said.
The question is – Will the government pay attention?
Says CNN: “Using the General Services Administration's estimated annual cost of ink – $467 million – Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30 percent – or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.”