The Excitement of Science
Deepika is one of the few people who have seen the true wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and has been able to inspire the interests of many, especially those who are younger, in a group of subjects that are commonly considered “boring” and “uncool:”
“If you were asked to envision a scientist, what image would come to your mind? The common stereotype that most children kindergarten through college have of a scientist is a guy wearing a white lab coat with disheveled hair, big glasses, a clipboard and several beakers of mysterious colorful liquids giving off clouds of smoke. As for adults, the majority view scientists as peculiar and secluded workaholics who spend 100 hours a week slaving away in an isolated laboratory. On the contrary, these stereotypes and reality are poles apart.”
Inspired by Parents
Deepika Kurup was born in 1998 in Nashua, New Hampshire, to two Indian immigrants who came to the United States in search of a better life. She grew up in an American lifestyle while still retaining her own culture. Her parents were very loving and caring, and worked tirelessly to provide a good life for her and her siblings. Their love and care greatly influenced and inspired the young Deepika to pursue big goals, both for herself and her family.
Early Love for Science, Technology, Engineering And Math (STEM)
Deepika’s interests in science, technology, engineering and math were evident from an early age. They were inspired by her own curiosity, as well as the realization that science is a way of discovering things and answering many of the questions people have with regard to the environment and how it works, and how we can work with the environment to achieve desired results.
In a blog she wrote years later, Deepika recalled her early interests in science and technology:
“When I was younger, I always loved to build things. I can vividly remember helping my dad assemble bookshelves and bicycles, and building motorized windmills out of K'NEX and Legos. I was always curious about what was happening around me, and science always had an explanation for all my questions. I realized that science is everywhere. Science has the enormous power to help people find solutions to problems we never thought could be solved.”
One among the Few
Of course, not everyone shared Deepika’s interest in STEM, which disappointed her, having seen how wonderful these subjects were. In school, while she excelled in her STEM subjects and was active in science and math clubs, most of her classmates focused instead on extra-curricular activities such as sports, drama and cheerleading. Deepika later concluded that the reason why so many children did not like STEM as much as sports or drama was because of the “coolness factor” of these subjects.
Deepika recalled a time when she observed how children were not interested in STEM:
“In 8th grade, I helped start my school's first-ever science bowl team. I was extremely excited because I had always been passionate about science, and I thought the best way to share this was to get others in my school involved as well. Only five kids showed up. I was dismayed to see that in a school of about 300 students only five kids showed interest in joining the science team.”
In spite of few people joining her STEM endeavour, Deepika was never once discouraged; instead, she considered herself one of the few who truly saw the wonder of science, and felt privileged to be able to discover things that can (and will) benefit countless people all over the world.
Witnessing the Water Problem in India
At around five or six years old, Deepika went with her parents to India for a vacation. She saw the trip as an opportunity to learn more about her own culture and country, but, when she finally arrived in India, she was surprised that the people lived very different lives from the comfortable life she had in the United States. There was much poverty and sickness, but what affected her the most was seeing people drinking dirty water, simply because they didn’t have access to water that was clean or safe to drink.
Witnessing this terrible situation inspired Deepika to help them. When she returned to the United States, she wasted no time studying the situation further, and found that more than one-sixth of the earth’s population does not have access to clean, safe drinking water. This discovery greatly disturbed her, and she devoted herself from then on to finding a way – any way – to combat the water problem.
As Deepika said in her blog:
“I have been trying to use science to solve one of our world's biggest challenges: the global water crisis. I was exposed to this problem at a very young age during my visits to India where I frequently saw people, especially children, drinking dirty water. About one-sixth of all the people in the world lack access to clean drinking water.”
Inventing the Solar-Powered Water Purifier
And so, in 2012, Deepika used the knowledge she gained through studying science and technology and applied it to her research to find a way to help people have better access to clean drinking water. After spending her entire summer vacation building and researching, Deepika was able to complete her invention: a device which uses solar energy to purify water.
The idea for her invention is quite simple and environmentally-friendly – using two light-sensitive chemicals, water within the tank undergoes a chemical reaction that kills certain types of bacteria that are harmful to humans. Through several tests that she conducted using different translucent containers, Deepika confirmed that her invention reduced large amounts of unwanted bacteria in drinking water.
Winning the “Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge”
Very much satisfied with her findings, Deepika entered the “Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge” with her invention in 2012. While she hoped to at least make the top ten, little did she realize how much her invention would be appreciated; at the conclusion of this famous event, Deepika won the grand prize, worth twenty five thousand dollars, and was named “America’s Top Young Scientist” of the year.
In her blog, Deepika recalled her experience at the Challenge:
“In order to help solve the water problem, I spent my entire summer vacation developing a green sustainable cost effective system to purify water using solar energy. I submitted my innovation to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and won the grand prize of $25,000 and the title of 'America's Top Young Scientist.'”
Deepika was greatly delighted that she won the Challenge, but, according to her, the most wonderful part of the competition was that she was able to meet other brilliant minds who shared her passions – not only in STEM subjects, but also in addressing the global water problem. As she said after the competition:
“Participating in this competition gave me an opportunity to meet some of the most imaginative young minds. Even though each of our projects was unique in its own way, we all had the same goal: solve global challenges pertaining to water. Young minds from all over the country have come together to tackle a pressing problem that is facing our world today - the water crisis.”
Doors Open for Deepika
Deepika’s invention thrust her into the spotlight by bringing forth a new, practical and sustainable solution to the water problem. Right after winning the “3M Young Scientist Challenge,” Deepika began receiving numerous invitations to exhibit her invention throughout the United States. In 2013, Deepika was personally invited by President Barack Obama to present her invention at the White House Science Fair, where she not only had the opportunity to showcase her water purifier, but was even able to talk to President Obama personally about her invention, passions and ideas.
A Passion for Getting Others to See the Beauty of STEM
Currently, Deepika is a high school student at Nashua High School South. And, as she looks forward to helping solve the world’s problems through science and technology, she also hopes that her publicity, and others who share her passions, will inspire millions of people worldwide to develop passions for science, technology, engineering and math, and work together to build a better and brighter world.
Through Deepika Kurup’s work and discoveries, more and more people are becoming interested in studying these subjects. And, as age-old stereotypes of scientists are now being proven untrue, more and more people are becoming open to the reality of what being a scientist truly is:
“Being a scientist doesn't mean working in a lab all day and night. A scientist is one who loves learning and getting a better understanding of the world from helping preserve wild-life, creating self-sustainable ecosystems, learning about volcanoes or inventing propulsion rockets. I think that schools should really emphasize that science is so much more than wearing a lab coat and mixing chemicals. Kids need to be aware of the excitement and adventures science can bring!”
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Discovery Education
- Global Water Crisis campaign
Awards and Achievements
- 2012: Received the “India Abroad Award for Special Achievement”
- 2012: Won the “Discover Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge” and named “America’s Top Young Scientist”
- 2013: Honoured at the White House Science Fair
Nashua Telegraph (Nashua South freshman wins $25,000, America’s Top Young Scientist award)
The Huffington Post (How Collaboration Can Further Innovation)
The Huffington Post (A STEM Girl's Opportunities: From Science to the White House)
The Huffington Post (Science Is More Than Working In A Lab)