California and New York high school students earn EPA’s Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award at world’s largest pre-college science career fair

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that two high school seniors earned the agency’s 2022 Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award for their research projects at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (Regeneron ISEF) in Atlanta, Georgia. Jacqueline Prawira, a senior at Mountain House High School, Mountain House, California won for a project titled, “Cyclo.Cloud: Development of Fish Scale Waste-Derived Materials for Adsorbance of Aquatic Pollutants” and Olivia “Liv” Pollock, a senior at Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham, New York, won for a project titled “Developing and Assessing Fucose-Based Water-Soluble Bioplastics.”

“The International Science and Engineering Fair celebrates the scientific curiosity and achievement of the next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers,” said Maureen Gwinn, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “We are proud to recognize these young innovators who are using science to address current and emerging environmental issues. Congratulations to all the finalists!”

Jaqueline Prawira has focused on water pollution for several years after learning about plastic pollution at a local fishing reservoir. At the 2019 ISEF, Jacqueline received honorable mention from EPA’s judges for her project that examined plastic pollution. Using her knowledge about the bioaccumulation of plastics, Jaqueline turned her attention to heavy metals in water and sought sustainable solutions that would fit into a circular economy. While conducting her research, she realized that components of fish scales were primed to absorb heavy metals and she developed a novel biosorbent that she named Cyclo.Cloud from upcycling fish scale waste to mitigate any harmful interactions between heavy metals and microplastics in the environment. Jacqueline’s cost-effective solution is envisioned for use at water resource recovery facilities to support reclaiming polluted water, repurposing waste, and preventing harmful heavy metal impacts.

Inspired by a conversation with their parent about a local store’s plan to ban single-use plastic bags and the issues that ban may raise around access to reusable shopping bags, Liv Pollock thought a sustainable, quickly degradable solution must be readily available. Given how much plastic waste enters the ocean, Liv sought to make their own water-soluble bioplastic from renewable sources. Building on previous work to create a water-soluble biofilm that would degrade in water, Liv, who conducted all their experiments at home, replaced the synthetic biofilm with one made from the renewable components of fucose and citric acid.

EPA’s Honorable Mention went to Mason Sufnarski, a senior at Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, North Carolina, and Josephine “Josie” Barber, a junior at Mercer Island High School, Mercer Island, Washington, for their joint project, “Sustainable Subsistence: A Low-Cost Method of Greywater Recycling for Hydroponic Agriculture.”

While visiting family in South Africa, Josie Barber learned more about water scarcity in rural parts of the community and developed a collaborative project with Mason Sufnarski that sought an equitable solution to help communities deal with lower water availability, which impacts the soil acidity and causes major food shortages. Their three-part project focused on greywater recycling and using locally available organic materials to filter recycled greywater; evaluating if the “Kratky Method” of hydroponics was viable for their approach; and then developing, designing, and building a prototype greywater recycling hydroponic distribution modular device made from commonly found plumbing parts as their proposed solution for technological equity and low-cost sustainable agriculture.

Since 2009, EPA has participated in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) recognizing projects that demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability and stewardship with the EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award. The EPA Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award provides for the winning students to travel to attend and participate in the EPA’s National Sustainability Design Expo.  The Expo features the university and college student teams from our P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Program which also encourages innovative designs applying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics to address an environmental challenge. Regeneron ISEF brings together student scientists and engineers from around the world. Created and produced by the Society for Science & the Public, Regeneron ISEF in 2022 featured ISEF student finalists in-person and virtually.  This year 1,750 high school students from 63 countries, regions and territories, presented their independent research at the Regeneron ISEF competition for approximately $8 million in awards and scholarships.

“Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award from the Environmental Protection Agency at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair,” said Maya Ajmera, President & CEO of the Society for Science and Publisher of Science News, the organization that founded and produces ISEF. “I am impressed by the scientific research, strength of character and extraordinary innovation evident at Regeneron ISEF 2022.”

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