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Water filter invented by high school student removes 99 percent of heavy metals

A new type of water filter is proving remarkably effective at removing heavy metals — it can remove 99 percent of heavy metal toxins.

Perhaps equally impressive, the record-breaking filter was invented by a high-school student.

Perry Alagappan, now an undergraduate at Stanford University, was initially inspired to develop a more effective water filter after learning about the problems of water contamination on a trip to India.

Upon his return home, Alagappan teamed up with researchers at Rice University and began testing filters. Alagappan and his research partners settled on a design featuring carbon nanotubes grown on cotton ball-like tufts of quartz fiber. The tufts of nanotube-enriched fibers undergo an acid-triggered chemical reaction called epoxidation, which encourages the formation of ringed, three-atom structures.

Tests revealed the filter’s remarkable ability to absorb heavy metal toxins. A single gram of the filter material can clean 83,000 liters of contaminated water. The filter removes cadmium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel and lead.

When the filter is saturated, it can be rinsed with vinegar and reused.

“Every culture on the planet knows how to make vinegar,” Rice chemist Andrew Barron said in a news release. “This would make the biggest social impact on village-scale units that could treat water in remote, developing regions.”

Despite their potential for water-purifying in remote locations, researchers believe the “supported-epoxidized carbon nanotube” filters, or SENT filters, can be scaled-up for industrial use — like to clean water contaminated by mining operations.

The research has earned Alagappan a number of awards, including the top environmental prize at the Stockholm Junior Water Prize in 2014 and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Los Angeles in 2015.

“It’s been a tremendous honor to be recognized on an international level for this research, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work on this project alongside such a talented group of individuals,” Alagappan said. “I also especially appreciated being able to meet with other young researchers at the Intel International Science Fair and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, who inspired me with their firm commitment to elevate society through science and technology.”

Researchers detailed the filter’s scientific bonafides in a paper published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

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