Bedford student heads to Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

A 14-year-old Bedford student, inspired by Malala Yousafzai to create a water purification system, has landed a coveted spot at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Rachel Brouwer part of 8-person Canadian team that will attend science fair in Phoenix

Fourteen-year-old Rachel Brouwer, who created a water purification system out of everyday materials, is attending a massive international science fair. (Canada-Wide Science Fair)

Rachel Brouwer is a 14-year-old girl determined to make a difference in the world.

Now, the water purification system devised by the Grade 9 Bedford Academy student has won her a coveted spot at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. 

Brouwer's water system uses a charcoal and cotton filter to remove contaminants. The filtered water is then put into two-litre bottles and set onto a hot tin roof to be warmed by the sun. UV radiation kills the bacteria.

She also designed an indicator strip using soy bean wax. It changes colour when the water is safe to drink. 

Her device isn't just getting noticed in science circles. There are now plans to test the system in Pakistan with the help of some royal connections — Zebu Jilani, who was born a princess in Pakistan, and heads the Swat Relief Initiative, which helps underprivileged women and children.

"In a couple of weeks, she'll be bringing my system to Pakistan to try it out," said Brouwer.

'It was so surprising'

The purification system will also be in Phoenix, Ariz., in May for the international science fair. Brouwer is part of the eight-person Canadian team that will attend.

"It was so surprising, I never thought that I would be on the team," Brouwer told CBC Radio's Information Morning.  

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is the world's largest international pre-college competition.

About 1,700 students from more than 75 countries, regions and territories attend, according to the fair's website. Students present their independent research and compete for more than $4 million in prizes.

Brouwer said she was inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner, to create a water purification system that would help people in Third World countries.

"When I was in Grade 7, I went hiking in New Hampshire and my brother and I saw the lakes and the rivers and then we saw the 'Contaminated. Do Not Drink,' signs," Brouwer said.

"At the same time I was reading the I am Malala book. In this book, many women and children were dying from the cholera outbreak, so I kind of put the two ideas together and I wanted to make a difference."

Research continues

Her water purification research has already earned Brouwer a gold medal in the Canada-Wide Science Fair, along with best junior environmental project challenge at the fair. 

Following her success at the Canada-Wide Science Fair, she was asked if there was a way her system could be adapted to filter out heavy metals such as lead. She got to work testing different filters.

"I found that natural absorbents can be used to remove heavy metals," said Brouwer. "I tested banana peels, corn cobs, coconut husks — all waste materials that they can't use [for other things]." 

"I'm still further testing what absorbents would be good for arsenic, cadmium and lead, and I'm just waiting for those results now."

With files from Information Morning

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