Among the recent winners of the Ashoka, Changemaker Challenge is Indian-American high schooler from Campbell, California-based Westmont High School Aarushi Wadhwa, the Ashoka Foundation announced recently. Along with her team, Wadhwa successfully devised a unique way to tackle drought and conserve water – a project that was named Aqua-Pods. At this year’s Ashoka Changemaker Challenge, the project won the first prize in the environment category.
A massive amount of research and experiments have gone into the process ever since the team came up with the idea for Aqua-Pods in October 2017.
Talking about this particular project, Wadhwa wrote on the Changemakers website, “Our project is addressing the problem of the biggest water wastage in human water cycle on a global scale. Research and studies by UN and other agencies have shown that out of the 4 trillion m^3 of freshwater used per year, 75% is for agriculture and irrigation purposes. 50% of it goes to waste due over watering, evaporation, wind, and runoff. With water being such an essential part of sustaining our environment, we must reduce it’s wastage.”
“After brainstorming, researching, and discussing with experts like Master Gardeners and local nurseries, I came up with an innovative solution for the problem of water wastage associated with gardening and agriculture, called Aqua-Pods — biodegradable sponges that are held inside pockets of cylindrical attachments lined with a weed sheet. The plant grows inside this attachment. When we water the plant, Aqua-Pods soak up the excess water, and when the plant needs water, the sponges release the previously absorbed water to the plants (using osmosis),” she added.
An experiment conducted by the team for over six weeks proved that the soil with Aqua-Pods has higher moisture content. Further, this soil can retain water for a more extended period.
“I have conducted an experiment over 6 weeks and it successfully proves that the soil with Aqua-Pods has higher moisture content, and also retains water for a much longer period. The data shows that Aqua-Pods provides 3X water savings. Even if Aqua-Pods makes a difference by 1%, 8 billion m^3 of water is saved, which is more than the current global freshwater shortage. In addition, studies have shown that plants grow best in fertile soil – with optimal pH value, and high nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate levels. Aqua-Pods contain natural ingredients like coffee grounds, potato and banana peels that have proven to increase soil fertility,” Wadhwa wrote.
Explaining how Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are helpful, Wadhwa wrote, “There are a few different STEM aspects to Aqua-Pods. This includes the fundamental scientific phenomenon of osmosis which allows the water initially soaked up by the Aqua-Pod sponge, a semi-permeable material, to be released to the plant when needed. This reduces water evaporation, and individuals don’t have to worry about over-watering.”
“Science also shows that natural ingredients such as potato peels and coffee grounds help fertilize soil and result in the optimal pH level for plant wellness. In order to create a prototype, we used the engineering design process to make the ideal contraption which could easily slide in and out of a variety of pots, and can hold several Aqua-Pod sponges. Using engineering, we were able to create different Aqua-Pod models to adhere to various environments from at-home gardening to large plantations,” she added.
Highlighting the key activities carried out as part of the project, Wadhwa said that they initially identified the area of largest water consumption, and then came up with solutions to reduce water wastage -recycling home water, developing special soil, and then finally coming up with the idea of Aqua-Pods.
“After positive results from competitive analysis and extensive experiments, discussions and feedback from industry experts & the community, we finalized the idea and created a fully functional prototype and filed for a provisional patent,” Wadhwa wrote.