Make in India is certainly the flavour of the season and 14-year-old Odisha girl Lalita Prasida Sripada Srisai’s low-cost desi water purifier is yet another testimony to that. She won the ’Community Impact Award’ for her innovative product at the Google Science Fair held in California last month.
Driven by a desire to serve community, Lalita has designed a water purifier by using the abundantly available corn cob, the working model of which won her the accolade. A ninth grader at Delhi Public School, Damanjodi, Lalita started working on this model last year when she noticed that the middle portion of the vegetable goes to waste, while the other portions get consumed in various forms.
“India is the third largest manufacturer of corn in the world and it is widely considered as the street food of India. When I saw the middle portion being thrown away just like that and the availability of pure water being a huge crisis throughout the country, particularly in rural India, the idea of linking the two came to my mind,” says this promising youngster.
And then there was no looking back for Lalita. She started designing her low-cost water purifier, one step at a time, with help from her mentor Pallavi Mohapatra. Her mentor is a science teacher at the same school.
The low-cost water purifier
The time that Lalita had spent in remote parts of the country, including Nagaland and Farakka before touching base in Odisha three years ago, largely due to her father’s transferable job as a school principal helped her with her work. In all the places, she had closely studied the water purification crisis and when she got a chance, this is what she looked into first.The working model of her water purifier essentially comprises five layers, of which four are made of corn. The first layer has corn cobs cut in lateral section while the second layer has the cobs cut into small pieces. The third layer has corn cob granules with the fourth layer being corn cob charcoal, which has the rare distinction of being able to absorb 99% lead. The fifth layer comprises sand, after passing through which the water becomes pure, though not potable. “Once it is boiled, this water can also be used for drinking,” says Lalita.
The experience at California
It was Lalita’s first trip abroad and needless to say, she was excited. She reached California to be part of the Fair with her mentor and her family. While the organisers sponsored Lalita and her mentor’s trip to the US, her family went on their own.
She reached there on September 19 and the first judging session happened the next day. “We made a presentation before 16 judges, in four different rounds of 10 minutes each. Even the way we spoke and the way we mingled with other finalists was under scrutiny,” says a bemused Lalita, speaking of her experience. At the finals, as many as 20 presentations were made and Lalita was the only Indian participant there. In the end, the judges chose eight winners in different categories, of which three were girls.
“I was very nervous and spent some nail-biting moments at the fair till the winners names were announced. Then my joys knew no bounds,” says this enthusiastic youngster, happiness clearly ringing in her voice.
As she was in California, she made sure she didn’t lose the chance to do some quality sight-seeing with friends she made at the event. Lalita speaks of a friend she made there, a girl originally from Kerala but now a US citizen.The ‘wow’ moment came in her life when she met Ahmed Mohamed, who was invited to be the chief guest at the event. Ahmed hit the headlines when he was arrested in his MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, when he took to school a commercial digital clock he had disassembled and subsequently reassembled.
“He was the one who took so much interest in all our projects,” says Lalita.
Lalita wants to do research when she grows up. Her father is exploring the possibility of her joining a University right after she finishes Std 10. “That is to ensure that I can start practical work on my working model at the earliest to help the community,” she says. As soon as she starts work, she will get a grant of Rs 6.5 lakh to convert her working model into a practical purifier,” says Lalita.