CHS Junior Makes Strides In Improving Sanitation

CHS Junior Makes Strides In Improving Sanitation

Chatham High School junior Nishita Sinha won five awards at the New Jersey Regional Science Fair at Rutgers University on March 11-12 for her project on Safe Sanitation Solutions. In her project, Nishita is developing an effective and economic filtration system to protect groundwater from enteric pathogens leaching from human waste. Her goal is to make safe sanitation accessible to more people in developing countries.

Sinha won the following awards: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pulse of the Planet Award, New Jersey Water Environment Association Award, International Sustainable World Award, ASU Walton Sustainability Award, and the Theobald Smith Society Award in Microbiology.

She plans to present her project at the NJ Youth Science and Humanities Symposium at Rutgers University at the end of this month, participate in the International Sustainable World Project Olympiad in Houston, TX, in April, and attend the NJ Water Environment Annual Conference in Atlantic City in May.

Sinha formulated the idea for this project during her trip to her family’s ancestral village in India where her grandmother still lives, where she discovered that the majority of families lacked basic sanitation services, such as running water and toilet facilities. She also learned that gastrointestinal diseases were quite common, especially among children.

She started researching this situation and found out that the lack of sanitation facilities was the main reason for girls to drop out of school when they reached puberty. Sinha surveyed 30 local families about their sanitation routines, sources of drinking water, and occurrences of stomach/gastrointestinal illnesses.

She used this information to try to come up with the ways to help the local people and sought and secured funding to install 61 composting toilets in the village. She then evaluated a number of different designs of composting toilets and hypothesized that in the tight living conditions in rural India, the liquid waste discharged from the toilets into the groundwater may contaminate the sources of drinking water with bacteria present in human waste.

In the current phase of her project, Sinha is working on improving the efficiency of the slow sand filtration process that is widely used in wastewater management in developing countries. She designed and built several table-top reactors that she uses as the prototypes of real composting toilets. Several materials readily available in the local communities are either being tested or will be tested in the near future for their antibacterial properties and feasibility as additives to the slow sand filtration systems. Sinha is performing these experiments under the mentorship of Professors Lisa Rodenburg and Craig Phelps at the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University.

At CHS, Sinha is working under the mentorship of Yelena Naumova, a CHS science teacher who has a background in environmental engineering. Naumova regularly works with Sinha to look at data and read and give feedback on drafts of Sinha’s papers, and she introduced Sinha to Professor Lisa Rodenburg at Rutgers, who studies air and water pollution. Naumova also encouraged her to enter the NJ Regional Science Fair and to apply to give an oral presentation at the upcoming conference.

Naumova said, “What impresses me most is that Nishita conceived this project entirely by herself. She researched the issue, proposed possible solutions, sought the resources and funding, and approached the university faculty with the clear research plan. I see in Nishita a tremendous research potential, as well as persistence, dedication, resourcefulness, and openness to new ideas.   
“Thrilled” that Nishita’s project got such recognition, “the judges and audience were very impressed with all components of the project: a realistic objective to develop an efficient and economical solution for safe sanitation, sound methodology, the prototype of the filtration system that Nishita designed and built, solid data analysis, clear future directions for expanding her research, and the potential social impact that this technology can have on people’s quality of life in developing countries.”

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