Business Insider called Paige Brown the “MacGyver” of Bangor, Maine. The magazine could have also called her a “Teen Thomas Edison.” In 2016, Paige Brown was 17 years old when she won the Intel Science Talent Search Global Good Prize. She invented a creative, effective, and affordable way to remove phosphorus from streams.
Plants need phosphorus to grow, but too much is harmful to the environment. If left unchecked, it could get into streams and lakes through fertilizer runoff from lawns and farms. Too much phosphorus leads to a process called eutrophication, which reduces oxygen in streams and lakes. One obvious sign of eutrophication is excess algae in lakes and streams. The extra algae consumes too much oxygen, suffocating fish, amphibians, and water plants. Overgrown algae also produce a toxin that can harm humans.
Paige designed an experiment to get excess phosphorus out of the water. First, she extracted a gel called “alginate” from seaweed. Then she mixed magnesium and aluminum into the alginate. After forming the substance into balls, she put the balls into plastic “claw” hair clips. She seated the clips securely into a block of foam. Paige then conducted experiments. The result: the gel successfully got phosphorus out of the river.
The impact of Paige’s invention was so beneficial that she won the Global Good Prize that $150,000 for college tuition. Paige considered attending Caltech, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and Yale Universities. Ultimately, she selected Stanford University. Today Paige is studying “at the crossroads of chemical engineering and materials science” at Stanford.
Paige continues to refine her phosphorus-purifying hair clip and foam design. She is using bioprinters and computer-assisted design technology. Her goal is to increase efficiency and adapt the system to absorb other types of pollutants including the E.Coli bacteria. She is also working as the lead mechanical engineer for the ValBal (“Valve-Ballast”) balloon project. ValBal is part of Stanford’s Student Space Initiative. The program launches high altitude balloons that can reach heights of 120,000 feet and travel more than 200 miles per flight.
Paige also conducts independent research through Stanford’s Luthy Group. She is part of a coalition of scientists and engineers who are working together to reduce water pollution. They also have a goal to increase sustainable water infrastructure.
More than 1.3 billion people in the world lack clean water. Thanks to Paige’s technology to remove pollutants from water, lives of more than a billion people can improve.
Paige is passionate about clean water and sustainability. She is also passionate about advanced materials and additive manufacturing. It doesn’t stop there either. She is enthusiastic about space exploration as well. Aside from that, she is trying to engineer a more sustainable future. She is leading teams at Stanford and will continue to lead in the years to come.
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