"I am always fascinated by the how scientists put imaginations into practice to change the world." -- Cynthia Lam
17 year old scientist Cynthia Lam became a finalist in 2014's Google Science Fair with her device H2Pro. Concerned with the innumerable amount of people worldwide that lack access to clean water and electricity, Lam set out to answer this issue in an economical and sustainable manner. Her passion for science led her to begin independent research on Titania Photocatalysis in 2013 where she investigated the optimum conditions for photocatalytic hydrogen production. Her work won the Major Bursary in Victoria's Science Talent Search and pushed her to take her findings one step further by creating a device that utilised the information she'd gathered. And thus, H2Pro was born.
This revolutionary piece of technology is a portable photocatalytic electricity generator and water purification unit. Requiring no outside power source, H2Pro uses just titania and sunlight to produce clean energy and fresh water. Lam explains, “In photocatalysis, not only water is purified and sterilised, but hydrogen is also produced through water-splitting, which can be used to generate electricity." She found that though successful, the process produced low levels of hydrogen because photo-excited electrons "tend to fall back to the hole i.e. photo-induced electron hole combination." This was overcome by adding reductants, which many organic pollutants can serve as. The pollutants are then not only decomposed but actually serve to improve the yield. In the end, she was able to lower the cost of hydrogen generation all while creating pure, fresh water. Other scientists have presented similar concepts but what sets Lam apart is the fact that H2Pro can operate with no additional power -- allowing it to be fully functional in the remote locations it is needed in most.
The device consists of two parts: an upper level for water purification and hydrogen generation that connects to a fuel cell and a lower level to further the water filtration process as seen in the photos below.
In a discussion about the importance of her design, Lam comments, "I think people around the world don't really understand how serious water pollution and the energy crisis is. I'd really like to finalise the design, because it could potentially help people in developing countries. It would be great to have clean water and electricity supplied sustainably, without needing any outside help. It would be awesome."
She is not only a brilliant mind, but also a true humanitarian. With an interest in pursuing a career in either Medicine or Environmental Science, she is determined to use her brain power to help as many people as possible. She initially found herself intimidated to pursue her love of chemistry and creativity, thinking herself too young to be taken seriously in the field. But she serves as a powerful reminder that nothing should be allowed to stunt our passion or damper our drive. Barely 18 years old, hers is a career we will certainly be keeping an eye on for years to come. We think it's safe to say that big things are in the pipeline.