Uproxx knows that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are driving the future of this planet forward. Every day, we see new ideas, fresh innovations, and bold trailblazers in these fields. Follow us this month as we highlight how STEM is shaping the culture of NOW.
During a trip to Central America, Luke Clay, a teenager from Columbus, Ohio, was appalled by the Styrofoam waste he saw littering the beaches. Further research led Clay — along with classmates Julia Bray and Ashton Cofer — to discover that 1.9 billion pounds of Styrofoam (the brand name of expanded polystyrene) are discarded every year. In fact, this specific waste accounts for 25% of landfill contents in the United States alone.
The students continued to examine the issue and eventually discovered that since styrofoam is 92% carbon, it could be activated and used as a water filtration system. They envisioned a double-edged fix — 663 million people in the world are still without access to clean water and water filters save lives around the world every day. By turning a problem — styrofoam waste — into a problem solver, these young scientists hoped to discover a viable solution to two major environmental ills.
“The idea was just the beginning,” Ashton Cofer told us. “Our first tests vaporized or ignited into flames. In fact, we were almost ready to give up. However, we kept trying more tests in different conditions until we finally got our first successful result. From there, we proceeded to conduct more testing to improve our product and test its effectiveness.”