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Tablet and Smartphone App Tests Water Quality and Safety


 
Imagine being in an emergency situation where you can press one button on your phone and test whether your water is drinkable. Alison Bick has created just that. The 2011 Intel Science Talent Search finalist has earned international honors, including the 2011 Stockholm Junior Water Prize creating an app to test drinking water for contamination.
 
Bick engineered the idea when a storm hit her neighborhood in New Jersey in 2007. There were warnings suggesting the water could be contaminated. A friend called her and asked if there was a simple way to test whether the water was drinkable using materials found around the house. Bick researched solutions but found no answer. She decided to take matters into her own hands and thought, “there’s an interesting project” and after much trial and error created an easy to use app to test water safety.
 
How does it work?
 
Grab any device that has a camera, such as a smartphone or tablet, and install Bick’s app. Then take a picture of water that has been exposed to fluorescent light or has been placed inside a special device mixed with chemicals. Bick’s program, that uses C# programming language, analyzes the picture and determines the water’s organic or inorganic qualities. (The app is currently being beta tested and may only be available to select users at the moment.)
 
Bick’s patented water safety app has huge potential for the future. It can be used to test drinking water after natural or manmade disasters in the western world. And may also have a huge impact on testing water in the developing world. In fact, The World Bank has approached Bick in the hopes that it can use her technology to test water in Nigeria. French water supply and water management company Veolia Environnement has also conveyed interest in the app.
 
The climb to fame
 
Bick recalls receiving the news she had got into the Intel Science Talent Search in 2011, “I was away at a fencing tournament when they called to say I got in. It was so exciting. My team celebrated with me that night.” When she became a finalist at the competition, she was ecstatic and claims it was the highlight of her high school experience because it helped people see her as a “valid scientist”.
 
Bick seems to have a calling for science, but not surprising as her parents are trained engineers. Her brother also studied engineering, and her sister is an entomologist (a scientist who studies insects). Now in her junior year at Princeton University aiming for a PhD, Bick is currently a campus advisor for incoming students at Princeton. Motivated by her life experiences, she tells students: “Go for your dreams and shoot for your goals. You’ve gotten to this place by working hard and doing what you’re passionate about. So keep going!”
 

TNphoto Tatsuya Nakagawa
Tatsuya Nakagawa is the VP of Marketing and co-founder of Castagra Products, a storage tank and wastewater coatings manufacturing company that is highly acclaimed for its sustainable coatings and cold weather coating applications. Castagra products are NSF-61 certified and are used by the world’s top water and wastewater contractors.