Indian-American teenager discovers cost-effective way to make saltwater drinkable

Chaitanya Karamchedu, an Indian-American student from Portland, Oregon, has caught the attention of major technology firms and universities because of a science experiment that began in his high school classroom.

Photo courtesy:
Photo courtesy:

He has found a cheaper and easier method to turn salt water into drinkable fresh water.

“1 in 8 people do not have access to clean water, it’s a crying issue that needs to be addressed,” said Karamchedu.

“The best access for water is the sea, so 70 per cent of the planet is covered in water and almost all of that is the ocean, but the problem is that's salt water,” said Karamchedu.

Isolating drinkable water from the ocean in a cost-effective way is a problem that has stumped scientists for years.

“Scientists looked at desalination, but it's all still inaccessible to places and it would cost too much to implement on a large scale,” Karamchedu said.

Karamchedu figured this out on his own in a high school lab.

He has won a US$10,000 award from the US Agency for International Global Development at Intels International Science Fair and second place at MITs TechCon Conference where he won more money to continue his research.

"They were very encouraging, they could see things into it that I couldn't because they've been working their whole lives on this," said Karamchedu.

Dr Lara Shamieh, Jesuit High School Biology Teacher said, “People have been looking at the problem from one viewpoint, how do we break those bonds between salt and the water? Chai came in and thought about it from a completely different angle.”

If ever implemented on a mass scale, it is a breakthrough which is estimated to impact millions of lives.

"What this is compared to current techniques, is that it’s cheap and accessible to everyone, everyone can use it," said Shamieh.

Karamchedu was also named one of 300 Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) Semifinalists in January.