June 22, 2018
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These eighth-graders from Old Town invented a filter to keep your water safe

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
The eighth-grade Coyote Pups Gamma Robotics Team, known around Old Town's J.A. Leonard Middle School as the “Gamma Girls,” invented a backpack-sized water filtration kit intended to aid people in emergency situations who don't have access to clean drinking water. From left, Lily Millard, Maddie Weston, Avery Ell, Emma Tupper (kneeling) and Phoebe Sanborn.
By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff

Five eighth-grade girls from Old Town’s J.A. Leonard Middle School have invented a mobile, backpack-sized water filtration kit that has earned them a coveted spot in an international West Coast robotics competition later this month.

The Coyote Pups Gamma Robotics Team, known around J.A. Leonard as the “Gamma Girls,” was chosen, along with 19 other semifinalists from across the world, to compete for the First Lego League Global Innovation Award from June 19-20 at San Jose State University in San Jose, California. The winner will receive $20,000 and two runner-up teams will receive $5,000.

The team is comprised of Avery Ell, 13, Lily Millard, 13, and 14-year-olds Phoebe Sanborn, Emma Tupper and Maddie Weston.

Their invention, the Aquamergency Water Purifier System, was selected from about 500 entries. They chose to invent the backpack-sized, battery-powered purifier after learning about the severe lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s public water source and the devastation and challenge to find clean water in the wake of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico last year.

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
The Gamma Girls could win up to $20,000 for their invention of the Aquamergency Water Purifier System. The kit can process one gallon every six minutes and is intended to be used by people in disaster situations who don't have access to potable water.

The personal purifier’s intended use is in emergency situations to provide an alternative to bottled water, until the primary water source is restored.

“The problems with clean water in Puerto Rico and Flint still aren’t being addressed correctly, and that was a big motivator for us,” Weston said. “Existing flood relief systems were becoming ineffective, and there wasn’t enough bottled water being distributed. That was a big part of what the [device] was meant to address.”

The kit works like this: an electric diaphragm pump powered by a 12-volt battery pumps dirty water first through a mesh screen filter to remove the dirt and debris, a charcoal filter to remove organic materials, a bacterial filter and finally a gamified filter, before the water is then emptied into a clean container, safe for consumption.

It works at a flow rate of about a gallon every six minutes, Millard said. Each of the filters will inevitably need to be cleaned, but are all reusable.

Dorothy Dawson, the team’s coach, is impressed with her students’ process and their motivation. “They have done all of this through the lens of, ‘What can we do to help families, women and children who need it?’”

The idea is to mass produce the product, which the Gamma Girls are striving to do whether or not they win the prize money. They estimate its retail value will be about $30. Earlier this week, they filed a provisional patent application.

“I think [mass producing] is something we would really like to do, to get the Aquamergency in the hands of anyone in the world who needs it,” Ell said. “Even if we don’t win, I think there are a lot of people willing to donate to the cause.”

From a social standpoint, the girls are aware of how male-dominated the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are, and how their all-female team distinguishes them.

“The other females we’ve spoken to have informed us how unusual it is to be an all-girl team in a STEM field,” Weston said “It’s good that we can show people that it isn’t a hindrance.”

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