Chaitanya Karamchedu is now attracting the attention of scientists across the country, as finding affordable ways to make ocean water drinkable has long been an unfruitful search.
“The real genesis of the idea was realizing that sea water is not fully saturated with salt,” said Karamchedu. A Jesuit High School senior, he began to experiment with a highly absorbent hydrogel polymer. “It’s not bonding with water molecules, it’s bonding to the salt.”
“People were concentrated on that 10 percent of water that’s bonded to the salt in the sea and no one looked at the 90 percent that was free,” notes Jesuit High School biology teacher Dr. Lara Shamieh. “Chai just looked at it and said if 10 percent is bonded and 90 percent is free, then why are we so focused on this 10 percent, let’s ignore it and focus on the 90.”
What distinguishes Karamchedu’s technique for removing salt from water is that it is potentially much cheaper and more easily implemented than previously developed techniques for desalination. It can revolutionize the world if researched more and further developed to work on a large scale, as many countries still do not have access to clean drinking water, even while they neighbor seas and oceans.
The US Agency for International Global Development awarded Karamchedu $10,000 at Intel’s International Science Fair; MIT and USAID’s TechCon 2016 awarded him second place and a monetary award for him to continue his research. He was also one of January’s 300 Regeneron Science Talent Search semifinalists.
Karamchedu is now even considering cancer cell research as well. “I can really see beauty in things that aren’t immediately applicable, and at the same time I want to do something to make a difference that’s not completely in the abstract,” he said. “It’s important what you do has an impact on people.”
This young Indian American is bound to make even larger leaps in the field of science with his creativity and commitment to the greater good.
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