Naturalist Award - High School

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 13: Climate Action

  • Goal 14: Life Below Water

2021 Youth Design Challenge Winner

This design concept was developed by participants in the Biomimicry Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Hillsborough High School
Location: Hillsborough, NJ, United States
Coach: Minh Dang
Team Members: Cynthia Zhang, Diya Patel, Richa Shah

Video Pitch

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Innovation Details

This team chose to address water pollution caused by agricultural runoff as a result of increasingly intense storms. The Current Cleanser is a conceptual design for a system that extracts common pollutants from flowing water using the principle of countercurrent multiplication observed in numerous organisms including fishes’ gills and the human . The system works by circulating water through a tendril-like tubing system that maintains a continuous concentration gradient so pollutants migrate into the tube.

What is the problem addressed for this Challenge and how is it related to climate change?
As the world becomes increasingly industrialized, innumerable forms of waste pollute the world’s water. One of the direst consequences of water pollution is its exacerbation of climate change. Polluted bodies of water are detrimental to aquatic life. As the levels of waste in water build, events like fertilizer runoff spur algae blooms which lower oxygen levels in the water, rendering it uninhabitable. The world depends on aquatic life to perform and remove CO2, a greenhouse gas, from the air. Furthermore, current water treatment plants also increase carbon emission, which further contributes to climate change.

What does this design solution do? How does it solve and improve a problem?
The design solution aims to mitigate the harmful effects of water pollution and existing water treatment facilities on climate change. The design extracts common pollutants from bodies of water through a comprehensive countercurrent system that works towards purifying water at its source. Furthermore, the Current Cleanser, unlike its counterparts, is sustainable and energy-efficient. Overall, the solution effectively purifies water, making bodies of water more conducive to the survival of aquatic ecosystems.

How was this solution inspired by nature? What organisms inspired it?
The solution was inspired by the extraordinary ability of fish to extract large amounts of oxygen from the surrounding water. The team observed several organisms ranging from fish to actinobacteria. They demonstrated a highly effective process known as countercurrent multiplication: a mechanism through which organisms form an energy-efficient concentration gradient to obtain or extract molecules. The actinobacteria introduced us to the benefits of surfactants, which are biodegradable and harmless to the environment. Together, these organisms prove that countercurrent multiplication is a sustainable process that can be applied to a highly effective water filtration system.