2014 U.S. SJWP Winner Works Against Global Water Crisis

May 30, 2017

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Deepika Kurup currently is a sophomore at Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.) and her startup company, Catalyst for World Water, is part of the school’s Innovation Lab Venture Incubator Program. Photo courtesy of Kurup.

Deepika Kurup currently is a sophomore at Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.) and her startup company, Catalyst for World Water, is part of the school’s Innovation Lab Venture Incubator Program. Photo courtesy of Kurup.

Many young adults encounter difficulty when trying to find an exciting career path. But 19-year-old Deepika Kurup has known exactly what she wants to do since starting high school: solve the global water crisis.

With numerous high-caliber awards, a robust research portfolio, and even her own company, Kurup already is working to make the world’s water supplies cleaner, cheaper, and more accessible.

When Kurup was a sophomore at Nashua (N.H.) High School South, she placed first in the 2014 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition. She began research for her award-winning project, “A Novel Photocatalytic Pervious Composite for Degrading Organics and Inactivating Bacteria in Wastewater,” in her kitchen. Kurup earned $10,000 and represented the U.S. in the international SJWP competition in Sweden.

After presenting her research at the 2014 international Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition, Kurup had the opportunity to shake hands with Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Photo courtesy of Jonas Borg, Stockholm International Water Institute (London).

After presenting her research at the 2014 international Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition, Kurup had the opportunity to shake hands with Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Photo courtesy of Jonas Borg, Stockholm International Water Institute (London).

“My experience with SJWP was amazing and definitely helped in motivating me to continue working on trying to solve the global water crisis,” Kurup said. “In Stockholm, I had the opportunity to meet other finalists from 29 different countries, and interacting with these students was incredibly inspiring. They helped reinforce the idea that in order to solve our world’s water issues, it is imperative for young water advocates to take initiative.”

Kurup’s approach to water treatment features porous photocatalytic composite filters that inactivate pathogens and degrade organic residuals. Solely relying on renewable solar energy and an inexpensive, reusable catalyst, even the prototype of Kurup’s technology proved capable of neutralizing 100% of total coliform bacteria just 15 minutes after implementation.

Last summer, Kurup developed the idea for an enterprise and entered a MassChallenge (Boston) competition focused on accelerating startups. The experience connected Kurup with business strategists, product developers, and water sector experts. The resulting for-profit social enterprise, Catalyst for World Water (CWW; Boston, Mass.), was named as a competition finalist and now works to introduce Kurup’s technology to regions most in need of cost-effective water quality solutions. At Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), where Kurup is now a sophomore, CWW participates in the school’s Innovation Lab Venture Incubator Program.

Contacts Kurup met during the 2014 SJWP competition continue to provide support as she refines the technology and develops her project into a globally focused company, she said.

In October, Kurup delivered a TED Talk at the TEDWomen 2016 convention in San Francisco. During her speech, “A young scientist’s quest for clean water,” Kurup describes her background, research, and motivation driving the new social enterprise, Catalyst for World Water. Photo courtesy of Kurup.

In October, Kurup delivered a TED Talk at the TEDWomen 2016 convention in San Francisco. During her speech, “A young scientist’s quest for clean water,” Kurup describes her background, research, and motivation driving the new social enterprise, Catalyst for World Water. Photo courtesy of Kurup.

In October, Kurup delivered an address at the TEDWomen 2016 conference in San Francisco. This added to a growing list of other achievements. In 2012, she was recognized as “America’s Top Young Scientist” by 3M (Maplewood, Minn.). She also received the National Geographic Explorer Award during the 2015 Google Science Fair, and was profiled on Forbes magazine’s “2015 30 Under 30: Energy” list.

As for advice to other young people pursuing water sector research, Kurup says the field is wide open and ready for the next generation of innovators.“The water sector can be a difficult one to make a difference in due to the fact that the industry can be hesitant to change, but I strongly believe that young people have the potential to make this change possible,” Kurup said. “Everyone in our world needs water for a variety of purposes, so getting involved in the water industry is a way for young people to make an enormous impact.”

Justin Jacques, WEF Highlights

Highlights Series Showcases Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competitors Achievements

Since the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) began in 1997, student competitors have gone on to have impressive careers and make notable contributions to research and the water sector. Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Highlights will feature some of the most notable of these achievements in an ongoing series found by the keyword SJWPShowcase.

Can’t wait? Find more information about these students in WEF’s SJWP Alumni Profiles.

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