Teabag tech turns contaminated water germ-free

Hwa Chong Institution student Dominic Yap, flanked by his teammates Bryan Lim (left) and Shawn Lim, was picked as one of eight finalists for the A*Star Talent Search, eventually receiving a Special Commendation. The team picked up a gold award from t
Hwa Chong Institution student Dominic Yap, flanked by his teammates Bryan Lim (left) and Shawn Lim, was picked as one of eight finalists for the A*Star Talent Search, eventually receiving a Special Commendation. The team picked up a gold award from the Singapore Science & Engineering Fair.PHOTO: THE SCIENCE CENTRE SINGAPORE
Over the course of two years, Dominic's team developed a way to treat used coffee grounds that allows these to absorb contaminants, such as lead and copper, and kill bacteria.
Over the course of two years, Dominic's team developed a way to treat used coffee grounds that allows these to absorb contaminants, such as lead and copper, and kill bacteria.PHOTO: COURTESY OF DOMINIC YAP

Students bag awards for purification method using filter bag filled with treated coffee grounds

Imagine being able to turn a bottle of contaminated water completely germ-free within an hour, just by using a teabag-like filter full of treated used coffee grounds.

Hwa Chong Institution student Dominic Yap, 17, has plans to tap large chains like Starbucks to help reduce their waste, treat the coffee grounds and then work with aid agencies to distribute the technology to developing nations where clean water is scarce.

Dominic and his schoolmates Shawn Lim and Bryan Lim, both also 17, were some of the 123 students from various secondary schools and junior colleges who received prizes last Friday at the combined 11th A*Star Talent Search (ATS) and 17th Singapore Science & Engineering Fair (SSEF) awards presentation ceremony.

The ATS and SSEF are held annually to provide a platform for students to showcase their scientific research, and awards are given to students for their achievements in scientific research.

Students are required to first present their projects at the SSEF in order to be considered for the ATS.

Judging for the ATS was stringent and challenging, consisting of several rounds of selection with a panel of local and international scientists, including a Nobel laureate.

Over the course of the two-year project, which started in 2015, Dominic's team developed a method of treating spent coffee grounds that allows these to absorb contaminants, such as lead and copper, and kill bacteria, effectively purifying water for human use.

Dominic was picked as one of eight finalists for the ATS, on top of the gold award his team won from SSEF.

He eventually received a Special Commendation, comprising a certificate and a $1,000 cash prize.

Five Special Commendations were given out, as well as first, second and third prizes for the three best projects.

Dominic said the inspiration for his project came from a desire to better society through science.

"We knew we wanted an environmental project, given the state of the world today, with global warming and other issues," he said.

The team identified coffee grounds - the remains of coffee beans after they are used to make the beverage - as a key area of waste in society.

They hope to overcome one challenge: Although treated coffee grounds are able to kill 99.9 per cent of bacteria in water, the students have not yet been able to remove heavy metals in the water to the standard required for human consumption.

They believe that the used coffee grounds could eventually also be used as part of the process in water- filtration plants.

The ATS first-prize winner was Rachel Qing, 16, a student of Raffles Institution.

She won for her project in explaining the physics behind a levitating toy, the Levitron. She was able to use a new approach to explain the science, an approach which has applications in explaining other phenomena in physics, such as the behaviour of sub-atomic particles.

As the ATS first-prize winner, Rachel took home a cash prize of $5,000, along with a certificate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Teabag tech turns contaminated water germ-free'. Print Edition | Subscribe