News Article

Engineering Students Internationally Published

Water Purification Researched

For most high schoolers, the thought of being published in an international journal is far-fetched. But for Oaks Christian School senior Kayla Youhanaie, it’s just another notch in her engineering belt.

Beginning last year, Youhanaie worked with fellow students Finley Buckner, Kenny Dott, Sammy Jackovich, Alex Leal, Hope Mbakadi Jr., Daniel Niednagel, Aiden Rouse, Haven Tan, and Enming (Tiger) Zhang working on a water purification device. The device is the result of a partnership with an organization called Global Bridges. For the past three years, the OCS Institute of Engineering worked with Global Bridges to design water storage and distribution systems for rural villages in Honduras and Nicaragua.

“We are able to talk to the community using Zoom, trying to figure out the best way that we can help them,” said Director of the Institute of Engineering Greg Gillis-Smith. “We met Maria, a single mom with a couple of kids, and she said of her jobs that she does is to do people's laundry. She takes the laundry out to the river and washes the laundry. So we said, ‘you have a river. Why are we designing all of this system that has a well and all this if you guys have a river that you can use?’”

The reason the river cannot be used is because of the contaminated surface water. It is completely polluted through farms and waste upstream, with no way of purifying it. Because of that, Gillis-Smith challenged his students to find a way to purify the water in the most cost-effective way possible.

“We were really inspired by how that project could have real world impact and help real people and how water is such an important kind of necessity of life,” Youhanaie, who is headed to Northwestern University to study mechanical engineering after graduation, said. “We started by researching how water is purified. And we came up with three different methods that are pretty common: with heat, UV and ozone. We split up into groups and researched the energy efficiency of each of those methods. After we compared the results, we concluded that ozone was the most efficient way to purify the water.”

Students came together to build a prototype of the purification system. It started with a repurposed 35-gallon fish tank and some solar panels. After they ran the first tests with local pond water that tested positive for bacteria such as e coli, the class realized that although the ozone was purifying the water, there were still particulates that were byproducts of the purification. The team added a sand filter to target the particulates, and after the final tests, put the water in a petri dish to test it. The results came back that the water was 100% pure and safe.

After the system was confirmed to work, the process of publishing the findings was next. The class finished at the end of the 2021-22 school year, so Youhanaie took it upon herself to write the research reports and get them published.

Engineering publishing is done in a couple of ways. Findings can be published in journals and conferences, with many publications requiring payment to submit and publish. The International Conference on Water Pollution and Purification Technologies was held in Istanbul, Turkey from March 20-21, and was completely free to apply to publish. The conference then reviewed all applications, and chose Youhanaie’s out of the entire pool to include.

Youhanaie spoke to the Institute of Engineering and how it has prepared her for a future in the engineering field.

“The institute really trained me how to think like an engineer and kind of know how to identify a problem that doesn't have a solution and then figure out how to solve the problem without using worksheet like a normal class. You just have to kind of figure it out. I think that definitely prepared me for engineering: thinking about innovative or creative solutions to real-world problems that need solutions and then using engineering to solve those problems.”

The invention was incredibly successful, and the class could have decided to try and apply for a patent, but Gillis-Smith said that the class decided as a group not to patent it.

“I asked the class if they wanted to apply for the patent, and they declined because they said that clean, accessible drinking water is a natural right, and should be free for everyone in the world,” he said.

Gillis-Smith went on to explain that while the device is extremely successful, it is also easy to build.

“We had high schoolers come together and build it. And of course, these are extremely bright kids, but to the larger population, knowing that it was high schoolers that built it makes it much simpler to imagine a non-profit organization that doesn’t have access to scientists with PhDs or someone of similar abilities. The people in need can put the device together and have clean drinking water almost immediately.”

To find the full proceedings of the conference, please follow this link. The findings by Youhanaie and the rest of the team begin on page 65.