Mehaa Amirthalingam, a freshman at the Global Studies Academy at Travis High School, loves to dance, enjoys photography, and strives to revolutionize current water conservation methods.
She is the proud second place winner after competing among the top 10 young scientists in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Her platform of research has been water conservation, which she has been working on for the last three years. Through the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, she was recognized for her innovative idea of a novel toilet flushing system that uses both freshwater and grey water.
She was recognized as one of the Top Indian American Role Models for Girls in the nation and was also recognized in many publications such as the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minn., A Mighty Girl, Travel Beats, Masti Time, India West and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls to name a few.
On Oct. 22 she was invited to ring the New York Stock Exchange closing bell with the top winner.
“If we do not make small adjustments in the way we utilize water now, we may have to make huge compromises in the future,” Amirthalingam said.
She cites the situation of taking baths in a bucket to save and reuse grey water in Cape Town as an example of an extreme possibility in many places in the future.
When Amirthalingam was selected as one of the finalists among thousands of applicants across the country in early June she was assigned a mentor, Dr. Jen Hanson, from 3M with the objective of creating a prototype of the idea she submitted to the contest. With a rigorous short-term research and additional help from a panel of 3M water scientists, she created a final product that will potentially sell for a price of $30.
Amirthalingam realized that the reason for the slow growth of grey water usage in homes in America is due to the lack of awareness. She adds that in the early 1900s the use of grey water was considered illegal, but today there are regulations created to make it easy for anyone to adopt grey water recycling. She said it is not only good for the environment but also a good investment due to a reasonable five-year break-even period.
As her next goal, Amirthalingam plans to reach out to water conservation agencies across the globe to increase awareness of her solution and to build model homes equipped with her product.
As 3M is an innovation-driven company allowing employees to use 15 percent of their time for any research based on personal interest, Amirthalingam plans to continue to work with Dr. Hanson to create turnkey solutions that include filters and tanks required for grey water purification and storage. She has also been contacted by several researchers in India with technologies for handling and purifying grey water to combine their technology with her solution, more particularly on aspects of microbial disinfection techniques. Amirthalingam’s point is that innovators should focus more on practical issues although it is tempting to work on profit oriented topics.