Saturday, September 12, 2015

Science Fair Rock Star - Sripada Srisai Lalita Prasida

This is the second in an ongoing series highlighting some of the amazing young women participating in this year's Google Science Fair. (Here's the first one.) Each has survived the rigorous regional rounds, and are awaiting the results of the final testing to see who will win this year's prizes. The results will be announced on September 21, 2015, and you can be sure I'll be watching!

As always, I am impressed with all the participants and their projects, but the nature of this blog is to highlight the stories of kickass women and girls, so I'm focusing on them for this series. Over the next week I will be sharing stories of many of these remarkable young women. Stay tuned!

Sripada Srisai Lalita Prasida is a smart, environmentally-minded young scientist who lives in Delhi, but spends a fair amount of time traveling around the countryside, visiting with local farmers. It was on one of these trips where she learned about the different ways farmers were disposing of dried corn cobs once the kernels had been removed. The common methods of burning them, burying them or dumping them seemed wasteful to her, so she decided to look for ways to reuse them in a more productive manner.

Another pressing concern of rural communities is water safety. Lalita wondered if there was a way she could combine these two concerns and come up with a way to use corn cobs to purify water. Initially she tried making a hole into the center of a corn cob and pouring dirty water into it and measuring the quality of the water that came out. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the particles in the water had been trapped inside the cob.

As it turns out, they make an excellent and simple filtration system, absorbing as much as 80% of common contaminants. Their high mechanical strength, rigidity and porosity combined with their easy availability make them a ideal option for rural communities.
Hence, contaminants like oxides of salts, detergents, suspended particles, coloured dyes, oil and grease get adsorbed in the surface of the corn cobs. Some of the heavy metals are also adsorbed by corn cobs. If the drain pipe of the household is connected to a chamber having different layers of corn cobs in partition layers or to an S-trap pipe having corn cobs, it will separate about more than 70-80 % of contaminants including suspended particles from the waste water. Similarly the factory out let pipes carrying effluents must be opened to five inter-connected chambers having long slices of corn cobs, pieces of corn cobs, powder of corn cobs, activated charcoal of corn cobs and fine sand for the easy adsorption of TSS and chemical toxicants both organic and inorganic. Corn cobs fitted to bamboos buried on the ground floor of the ponds and allowed two to three weeks to stand can be useful for cleaning of water in ponds, tanks and rivers. This is also useful to clean overhead water tanks of individual households and community tanks.
As a bonus, as the corn cobs absorb the suspended particles, this also helps to reduce the temperature of the water, as well as acting as a flow regulator during high rains.

When asked what advice she'd give others, she reminds us discovery is only possible by observation. "Always observe your surroundings keenly. You never know what scientific breakthrough you may stumble upon."

For more reading, please check out the Google for Education blog post about Sripada Srisai Lalita Prasida.

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