Nova Scotia

Bedford's Rachel Brouwer, 14, wins big at prestigious international science fair

Rachel Brouwer won second place in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this month in Phoenix, Ariz.

Grade 9 student's prize was $1,500 plus an asteroid was named after her

Meet Rachel Brouwer, a 14-year-old Nova Scotia inventor who's out to change the world with her water pasteurization system. 6:53

A 14-year-old Nova Scotia scientist has won a prize that is out of this world. 

Rachel Brouwer was one of just eight Canadian students to attend the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this month in Phoenix, Ariz. 

The Grade 9 Bedford Academy student's water purification system won her a coveted spot.

More than 1,700 young scientists from 77 countries competed for prizes and bragging rights at the world's largest science fair. 

Incredibly, though not so surprising for those who have been following the bright young woman's project, Brouwer came in second place in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category. 

Out-of-this world prize

Her prize was $1,500 and she got to have an asteroid named after her, the Rachel Brouwer.

The names of all Intel ISEF first and second-place category winners are submitted to the International Astronomical Union, which names a minor planet in their honour.

"It was an amazing experience to meet people from all over the world that have similar interests," Brouwer told CBC's Information Morning.

She said the fair was both inspirational and intimidating.

"I was competing against 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds — so, just to see their work and see where my project could go was definitely very exciting and incredible to see."

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.

Her work began after a family hike in New Hampshire.

"It started out as a science fair project but I was inspired to do it after my family was hiking in New Hampshire. We saw the lakes and the rivers but then we saw the 'Contaminated. Do not drink,' signs," she said.

"At the same time I was reading the I am Malala book and in that book, many women and girls are dying from the cholera outbreak so I put the two things together and decided I wanted to make a difference."

She started researching what sort of water purification solutions already existed and what had yet to be done. 

Rachel Brouwer of Bedford, N.S., has developed a water purification system that won second place at the world's largest science fair. (CBC)

Novel approach to solar pasteurization 

Brouwer said she read about people in developing countries having to travel for their water. She also read about the quantity of suspended particles in some water sources and asked herself how those could be removed. 

"As I solved each problem, that's how my system came about," she said.

Her device is made from plumbing materials that includes items that are readily available in developing countries.

"First the water's pumped from water holes and lakes using my hand pump. Then it would run through a basic carbon and charcoal filter, made from ABS to house the filters," said Brouwer.

"Then, when it goes through there, two-litre bottles are filled up — and I chose those because they are also readily available. Once those are all filled up, you'd remove them from the system and place your wax indicator inside."

3D printed wax indicator is key

The 3D printed wax indicator is the unique key to her system. 

"Once it's inside, you screw the caps on and place them on a piece of corrugated tin roof. So then you'd let the sun do the rest of the work," she said.

When the water heats up to 40 C, it causes a colour change in the wax indicator, turning from dark blue to light pink, indicating the water is heating up.  

Once the water reaches 60 C — the temperature at which the water is free from harmful bacteria — the wax melts, indicating the water is safe to drink.

'Nothing can stop you'

As if winning second place and having an asteroid named after you were not enough, Brouwer also received a congratulatory email from her role model, Malala, before the latest competition: 

"Thank you for your great work and ambition and determination. Nothing can stop you. Believe in yourself and keep on moving.

Best Wishes, 
Malala"

"She's been my role model since I started this journey," said Brouwer. 

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

With files from Information Morning