By Andrew Fraher, Xylem Inc.
Recently I had the privilege of participating as a judge in the 2017 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, hosted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the Water Environment Federation (WEF), which brings the best and brightest of our high school men and women, grades 9 to 12, together to compete for the right to represent the U.S. globally at the International Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition later this year.
Many of the students’ projects highlighted the challenges we are facing with respect to water, in that less than 1 percent of the total water on earth is fresh water, and that number will continue to be challenged in the future as a result of climate change and increasing food and water demand from ever-increasing populations. In all there were 49 entrants, including Puerto Rico, many from STEM and advanced technology schools. Projects were focused on water as the central theme and covered a broad range of topics such as conservation, microfibers, advanced treatment including nanotechnology, and emerging contaminants, to name a few. Several of the projects were continuations of the previous year’s research, and some of the projects spanned multiple years of research. Overall, the quality of the projects and presenters was extremely high, making the decision on the winning project extremely challenging.
The eventual winners were a team from New York that focused their project on a rapid detection system for wastewater contaminants. What really impressed me, however, was how confident and prepared each and every one of these young scientists was and how excited they were to present their findings to the judges, spectators, and even the other entrants. Later on at dinner I had a chance to sit with some of the students, and I was encouraged and excited to hear that several of them were saying they wanted to pursue degrees in environmental science to further the cause of water.
Some of these young scientists were moving on to college, several on a full scholarship. One of the individuals had graduated the night before, flown all night on the red eye to get to the competition, and set up his presentation shortly before the judges arrived. He delivered his presentation flawlessly, with great enthusiasm. When he finished and my judging team moved on to the next exhibit I thought about how much I appreciated his energy and dedication and how my company could benefit from his knowledge and passion for water. His energy level was infectious, and I left energized knowing that the future of water is in capable hands.
As this next generation enters into college and shortly thereafter into the workforce, it is critical that we attract and retain them, engaging them in solving the newest wave of water challenges from increasing population, drought and water scarcity, emerging contaminants, and nutrients, among others. They bring a fresh perspective to the water industry, utilizing technology in completely new and exciting ways to solve problems while engaging their community in the cause of water.
This was my second year as a judge at this competition, and like last year I found this to be one of the most personally gratifying things I have done in my career. I encourage the water community to support competitions like this one at every level to promote research to identify and bring forth new and fresh ideas and carry on the cause of water so we can all protect this precious resource for future generations.
Andy Fraher is Director of Marketing and Business Development, NA at Xylem, Inc. He is also a Board Member of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) and active on several of the Association’s committees and subcommittees. For more information about WWEMA, visit www.wwema.org. Xylem has been a long-time leading sponsor of the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize, the most prestigious youth award for a water-related research project, and is a founding sponsor of the International Stockholm Junior Water Prize.
Image credit: "The Spit Bridge Sunrise" Toma Iakopo © 2013 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/