Boise teen wins North American Google Science Fair award

Posted at 6:10 PM, Jul 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-24 20:10:23-04

A Boise teenager is one of five winners, worldwide, to be recognized by Google for his innovation in the world of science and initiative to help solve real-world problems.

Thanks to the multi-national technology company's contest, Flint, Michigan's water crisis could be solved more quickly.

When faced with the challenge of inventing something that could have a positive environmental affect on his region, Timberline High School student Alex Howard thought of Flint, Michigan where thousands of children were exposed to water contaminated with lead.

Lead poisoning in children with developing brains is linked to declines in intelligence and behavioral problems.

The U.S. government banned lead gasoline, paint and plumbing in the 1970s.

However, the dangers of being exposed to the toxic metal is still out there thanks to household dust and soil contaminated with old lead-based paints.

Cleaning up the water system in Flint has been a slow process.

"They [Flint, Michigan residents] still need a lot of help," Howard says. "It's going to be at least five years until their water is clean again."

Through research, Howard discovered the problem has crept back into U.S. society with every single state in the country having an area reporting water with levels of lead above the legal limit. He wanted to come up with a long-term, low maintenance solution that was inexpensive.

"He looked at the problem and said, 'How can I solve it from the materials. I want to get carbon and I also need something that can filter effectively. So, I need all of these things together,'" says Brad Howard, Alex's father. "And, he was able to put it together in a very novel way."

Using sand, seashells and sugar, Howard pieced together a filter that affectively removes lead from water. He essentially covered the seashells with carbon through a process, which turned the seashells into an even more absorbent material.

After testing the filter out at a Boise State University lab, the results were sent to Google.

The 15-year-old ultimately walked away from the contest as the North American recipient of the Google Science Fair Community Impact award.

Winning a scholarship, he will also be assigned a mentor to further develop his prototype.

"Hopefully getting to recognize it and having the honor of being able to get somebody to work with me and getting other people to see how easy it is make would encourage that problem to get solved quicker," Howard concludes.

Also part of winning the community impact award, Howard has been invited to attend the Google Science Fair next month in California.