The U.S. EPA announced Naomi Park, an eleventh grader at Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut, as the winner of EPA’s 2023 Patrick H. Hurd Award at the 2023 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas. Naomi’s project, “Concurrent Removal of Rising, Soluble Ocean Carbon Dioxide and Oil-in-Water Contaminants via Multi-Functional Remediation Framework,” tackles three environmental issues: styrofoam waste, water quality, and soluble oil remediation.

“Congratulations to Naomi and to the over 1,600 finalists at the International Science and Engineering Fair,” said Chris Frey, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development. “The creativity, innovation, intelligence, and drive that the students display is truly inspiring. I hope these students will keep using their STEM talents to tackle environmental issues and unlock scientific and engineering solutions that benefit all.”

Naomi recognized that current methods for oil spill remediation are typically chemical processes with adverse effects or mechanical solutions that primarily tackle oil on the waters’ surface. Naomi read about a class of nanoporous materials—hyper cross-linked polymers (HCPs)—that have the properties to bind with nonpolar pollutants like oil and carbon dioxide and can be synthesized using styrofoam. She sought to identify a process in which the properties of cross-linked polymers could be used to remediate soluble oil and carbon dioxide from oil spill events or in ocean acidification hotspots that have been the most negatively affected by an increase in CO2 emissions. After synthesizing the HCPs using styrofoam, Naomi constructed a multi-functional remediation framework that has a melamine foam base onto which her synthesized hyper cross-linked polymers were applied for pollutant capture and removal.

Honorable mention went to Abhinav (Abhi) Avvaru, an eleventh grader at Nashua High School South in Nashua, NH for his project, “An Economical and High-Precision Approach for Nitrate Detection and Filtration to Ensure Quality Drinking Water”. After learning about the prevalence of nitrates in drinking water and the cost for individuals to test their well water, Abhi sought to identify an affordable solution. He designed and constructed an inexpensive sensor that demonstrated high accuracy and a working model of a drinking water filter using Activated Carbon and treated with polyaniline and multi-walled carbon nanotubes.

Naomi and Abhi were finalists in at Regeneron ISEF, the world’s largest international pre-college STEM research competition. Owned and produced by the Society for Science, Regeneron ISEF provides a platform for the best and brightest young scientists to showcase their science, technology, engineering, or math research.

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