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Mason HS senior invents foul water-detecting device, competes for national STEM award

Madeline Mitchell, Cincinnati Enquirer |

Mason High School senior Laalitya Acharya says she wasn’t allowed to drink Coca-Cola as a child. In rebellion, she experimented in the kitchen, trying to recreate the secret recipe from scratch. “I think I always had a curious spark within me,” the 17-year-old first-generation Indian immigrant told The Enquirer. Her parents are from Gujarat.

That curious spark would later lead her to invent a water contamination-detecting device she hopes will bring clean water to homes around the world. 

Nereid is a device that takes microscopic images of water to detect contamination, Laalitya says. The device’s findings are then transmitted to the local water plant or research computer for further investigation. This way, she says, contamination can be detected early and authorities can stop the spread of microbes before they contaminate entire water systems. 

The device landed her as a finalist in Society For Science’s national Regeneron Science Talent Search 2021, an annual science and mathematics competition dating back to 1942.

Laalitya is the only Ohio student finalist in the program. This year more than 1,700 seniors entered research projects, and 40 were chosen as finalists to receive $25,000, minimum. The top 10 finalists will be awarded up to $250,000, according to the website. The winners will be announced Wednesday night during a livestreamed award ceremony on YouTube.

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