Thabit Pulak of Richardson,
Texas was the winner of the Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award offered by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the Intel International Science and
Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012. As part of this award, Thabit was invited
to attend and exhibit at the National Sustainable Design Expo, home of the P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet
Student Design Competition for Sustainability this April in Washington, DC.
Can you provide a short description of your research project
and how you initially became interested in this topic?
I am from Bangladesh, which is a poverty-stricken nation. Amongst the many
problems the country faces, one of the main problems that personally caught my
eye was that of arsenic water poisoning. Arsenic is a naturally occurring
element which leaks into groundwater in Bangladesh, where villagers often use
water wells or deep-tube wells. Ingesting arsenic continuously results in
arsenicosis, which is a chronic state of arsenic poisoning that gradually
develops into various types of bodily cancers, like skin cancer, kidney cancer,
and so on. While I was in Bangladesh in summer 2011, I met a neighbor who was
afflicted by arsenicosis. It pained me to see that he had little options left
for survival, as his condition was long untreated, and had progressed.
the issue closer, I discovered a solution for filtering arsenic from water did
exist, but it was very expensive (nearly $70) for the average villager, who
makes around $1 a day. In addition, these filters were only for arsenic, not
other bacterial matter. My project was developing an arsenic water filter that
could also filter bacteria from water, at an affordable price. I designed my
filter in such a way that the whole filter could theoretically be built using
materials in a typical village home. My research could potentially benefit the
70 million people world-wide drinking arsenic tainted water.
What was your experience competing at
Intel ISEF like?
I had never competed
in a SSP-affiliated science fair until 2012, when our school held a science
fair in which students could advance to regionals, state, and so on for the
first time. Previously, our science fair was just school-wide. So naturally, I
was stunned that my project even made it to Intel ISEF. My experience at Intel
ISEF was definitely life changing. Up till that point, I hadn’t seen any place
that contained so many teenagers that were extremely talented, and doing unprecedented
things that had the potential to change the world. I had the opportunity to
shake hands with Carl Wieman, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, and exchange a few
words with him. Funny enough, I even bumped into Martin Chalfie, a Nobel Prize
Winner in Chemistry, in the convention’s parking lot! The connections I made
and the amazing people I met were ultimately what made my first trip to Intel
ISEF among the most life-influencing
events I’ve ever been to. I am definitely excited to be able to return to Intel
ISEF yet again at Phoenix this year!
The trip to the National
Sustainable Design Expo was part of the award
you received at Intel ISEF 2012. What were the most memorable parts of
participating in the Expo?
The Patrick H. Hurd
Sustainability Award given to me by the EPA at Intel ISEF 2012 included an
all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC to attend the annual National Sustainable
Design Expo, which is an event where university students working on the
nation’s most-applicable environmentally sustainable projects compete for funds
to implement their project. I was given a booth to present my project, like the
university students competing. These students ranged from sophomores to post-graduates.
I had the opportunity to present my project to many amazing people, such as the
administrator of the EPA, Bob Perciasepe! I was also able to talk to various
university students about their research. It was interesting to glimpse the
research undertaken by undergraduates and graduate students. Up until then, I
had only seen high school projects done by teenagers like myself. Looking at these
projects made me feel very hopeful, because I saw that what they were doing was
not so different from what I was working on.
What are you up to now?
I am now working on affordable testing methodologies for arsenic-contaminated
water. Just like filtration, detecting arsenic in water is quite expensive.
Thousands of people do not know arsenic is in their water, and despite
government efforts to test for arsenic, existing methods are expensive. My work
on this project earned me a grand-prize from the Dallas Regional Fair, allowing
me to directly qualify for Intel ISEF 2013, which I am quite excited about.
ISEF, I established the first science club at my school, to encourage more
students to participate in the science fair and pursue topics that can make an
impact in the world. This year, my
school sent 7 students to the regional science fair, all of them members of the
science club. I pushed for the building
of our school’s first library student conference room, which would be a place
where students could talk and discuss ideas with each other, and help foster
their thoughts, and thus ensuring that any “Spark of Genius” will not be lost.
Recently, I’ve partnered up with a student from UC Berkley who runs a startup
which builds conference rooms, and struck a proposed deal with him which will
help further enhance the school’s conference room by sound-proofing it.
Do you have any advice for other young
students interested in science?
Don’t let your age
be a blocking factor in anything you try to solve in science. There’s no such
thing as a problem that only “adults” can attempt to help solve. Attending the
EPA National Sustainable Design Expo really helped me feel that age is no
longer a relevant mode of measuring one’s contributions. Inside the Expo, I was
a scientist, working to solve problems for the greater good, just like everyone
Also, if you desire
on pursuing a career in science, work towards solving a problem the world faces,
and be passionate about it. I am working towards fighting the decades-long
problem of arsenic poisoning in underdeveloped countries, not only because of
my love of science, but because I have seen the problem and I have a passion to