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My Personal Experience as an Environmental Engineer in High School! Part 5!

Written By: Anna Lucas

As we have covered in this mini-course, environmental engineering is full of possibilities and is a truly unique field where you are solving real world problems and seeing the fruits of your labor immediately. But, what if you are itching to participate in environmental engineering in high school? What if you are planning on studying it for college, but don’t want to wait until then? Well lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to participate in environmental engineering while still in high school! But, in order to give you a more personal, up close perspective on how to do this, I'm going to tell my story on how I, personally, got started.

It started when I was about 15 years old. I was super into engineering, but I didn’t know where to start. I had always been passionate about clean energy, as I thought the notion of the continued use of fossil fuels ridiculous, as they were clearly negatively impacting our environment and are not even a renewable resource. However, I also thought that the current solutions we had for this problem such as solar or nuclear were lacking in many aspects. Solar is extremely expensive as you need to buy your panels, pay for them to be installed, and the energy collected barely ever makes up for the price you paid for the panels themselves, making them not cost efficient. Nuclear, although a great form of clean energy in theory, is also expensive as the radioactive materials needed to power the reactor are very expensive, and large plants need to be built in order to house the reactor, and hundreds of people need to be paid to maintain them, making them very expensive. All this aside, nuclear power also has large room for human error, as we have seen in devastating nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl.

So, I decided that I was going to take my own crack at renewable energy, and create my very own miniaturized hydrogen reactor. I took inspiration from the industrial sized hydrogen reactors that are used today, which are very expensive to maintain, use more energy than they produce, and use only fresh water, taking away from the supply the rest of the population desperately needs. I created my reactor to be hundreds of times smaller than these reactors, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. My reactor is also capable of running on salt water, giving purpose to the trillions of gallons of water just sitting in our oceans.

I started the blueprints for my reactor in two stages. I started with the blueprints for the interior of the reactor, and then I made prints for the outside of the reactor, or the visible part second. My blueprints for the inside of the reactor consisted of my water chamber, my filtration system, and then my expulsion system. My water chamber consisted of a small chamber consisting of metal and polycarbonate which held the water of my reactor. The metal would be heated up by two wires connecting to the metal, and the water would begin to boil. Once this occurred, the steam from the water would float up into the filtration system, and be filtered through 20 layers of perforated metal where the steam is “dried”. In this “drying” process, the molecules of the steam are separated from one single molecule of hydrogen and oxygen, to two separate molecules of hydrogen and oxygen still contained in one gas. This new gas is known as “Brown’s gas”, and is a universal fuel that can be used to power anything now powered by natural gas, or anything with a combustion engine.

After the creation and testing of my reactor, I decided I wanted to show it off, so I entered into my local regional science fair. I did well in this first science fair, placing second in the fair and winning the Student Choice Award, and the Junior Stockholm Water prize along the way. So, I then was entered into my state’s science fair, where I then won a few more awards for my project. These fairs also gave me the opportunity to get advice and constructive criticism from other students and from the judges who were all professionals in the engineering field. These tips and criticism allowed me to improve my reactor into what it is today. And that is my story about how I became an environmental engineer while still in high school.

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