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Boise teen's science project discovery earns him a spot in national competition

Chemical water filters can cost a lot money, so Alex came up with a less expensive alternative — carbonized oyster shells (KBOI Staff Photo).

A student from Boise will be representing the state of Idaho at a national competition next month.

Alex Howard, a recent graduate from Timberline High School, created a filter that removes hard metals from water.

It's unlike any other before it.

"A lot of filters around the world don't get rid of heavy metal because they are so small and you can't really use physical filter to remove it, so you have to use chemicals," said Alex Howard.

Chemical water filters can cost a lot money, so Alex came up with a less expensive alternative — carbonized oyster shells.

First, he coated oyster shells in sugar water. Then, he got them extremely hot so that everything except the carbon in the sugar evaporated off of the shells. He then put those shells into a filter system.

"The carbon on the surface absorbs the heavy metal, like lead and cadmium, from the water," said Alex. "Then, the oyster shells lock the heavy metal into the shell itself."

It's an inexpensive way to filter water that can be used around the world.

"If you wanted to provide enough [drinking] water for a family of four... for an entire month, you would use 44-cents worth of material," said Alex.

Alex's design won him the Idaho STEM Action Center's 'Best in Fair' award at the BSU Science and Engineering Festival in March.

He also earned a Stockholm Junior Water Prize at the Western Idaho competition, advancing him to the national challenge June 15-16 at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. This is an all-expense-paid trip, with the national winner advancing to the International Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition in Stockholm, Sweden, in August.

As for Alex, this is just the beginning.

"I really hope sometime in the near future I would be able to point to a place where I say, 'you know, carbon coated shells are being used here and they're actually really effective.'"








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