Seventy-seven percent of the earth is water, yet less than 1 percent is useable, America’s Top Young Scientist Deepika Kurup said.

Norman High students were exposed to the realities of clean water scarcity during a presentation Tuesday by Kurup.

Deborah Hill, a Norman High science teacher, invited Kurup to speak to her AP biology class about the global water crisis and Kurup’s invention that led her to win the 2012 Discovery Education 3M Scientist Challenge.

Kurup said when she entered the 3M Scientist Challenge, she was inspired to focus on the clean water problem after visiting her grandparents in India and seeing people without clean drinking water.

“Seven hundred sixty million people lack access to water. Two million die every year due to diarrheal diseases ... This is more than numbers, these are actual people with families,” she said.

Chlorination, filtration, uv-c lamps, reverse osmosis and solar disinfection are the current methods by which water is made clean for drinking. Most of these methods are not functional in developing countries; solar disinfection is a developing countries best option. One could leave a water bottle on the roof and let the sunlight purify the water, but that process is extremely slow, Kurup said.

After converting her entire house into a lab, Kurup worked on finding a catalyst that could speed up solar disinfection without losing effectiveness. Kurup created a compound made of Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide and cement and found that such a compound would effectively act as a catalyst.

“I created a photocatalytic rod that could be placed in bottles, a photocatalytic water tank that could store water long term and a photocatalytic water purification panel,” Kurup said.

Kurup’s compound reduces the amount of aerobic bacteria and coliform but doesn’t wash away, she said. She discussed the many failures she had with various eco-friendly epoxies and credited her 3M Scientist Challenge mentor Dr. Jim Jonza with helping her throughout her work.

“He has over 45 patents ... that’s what’s so great about the 3M Challenge; it pairs finalists with and introduces them to top scientists,” Kurup said.

In all her classes, especially in zoology, Hill said when class members talk about parasites, she tries to emphasize how lucky the students are to live in America and drink clean water.

“I try to expose them to a variety of things,” Hill said. “I’ve had some students go on to do grad work on water purification and water systems.”

After the presentation, Norman High students said they were impressed with Kurup.

“I’m questioning what I’m doing with my life right now,” Alonna Nellis, sophomore AP biology student, joked when asked if she had any questions for Kurup.

At only 15, Kurup said her journey continues and she would like to keep working on ways to help get people clean water. Kurup acknowledged that the water crisis is daunting but encouraged Norman High students to get involved and enter local science fairs because science opens up opportunities.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,” Kurup said, quoting Albert Einstein.

Katherine Parker


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