Curiosity, Creativity and STEM Can Solve Real-World Problems
My passion for STEM has been driven
by curiosity, creativity and a desire to improve the world we live
in. I love that STEM provides a way to solve problems and improve
lives – it’s the inspiration behind my latest
portable Total Suspended Solids (TSS) device that detects invisible
particles in water to monitor water quality and contamination levels.
had the opportunity to bring my invention to the next level during
the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a competition hosted by 3M and
Discovery Education, and hope my experience helps encourage other
students to pursue their own passion for STEM.
elementary school, one of my favorite books was What
Randall Munroe, which uses science and math to explore
out-of-the-box, absurd “what if” scenarios. While I didn’t
always understand the more technical concepts, it was fascinating to
see investigative inquiry play out. Books like What
If? kickstarted my
passion for STEM, which has continued to grow over the years.
it’s an article about the mRNA
vaccines or NASA’s Perseverance,
reading helps fuel my curiosity and interest in STEM. I also
participate in many STEM extracurriculars, like FIRST
at school. Connecting with other people who are passionate about STEM
is a great way to learn and an excellent opportunity to collaborate.
the opportunity to discuss my projects and ideas with peers and STEM
experts, like my 3M mentor Dr.
has kept me encouraged and inspired. I looked forward to sharing my
progress with Dr. Shaver during a virtual meeting each week, while he
showed me the fresh bread he just baked or the wild turkeys that seem
to love hanging out in his backyard.
problems through STEM
believe that young people, with the right guidance, have the drive
and passion to make a big impact on the world. I was inspired to
create my TSS device after discovering the water quality challenges
so many countries face.
boiling water can kill pathogens, there are still heavy metals and
other pollutants, like microplastics, that remain. I’ve focused
much of my research on microplastics because of their unknown health
adhere to toxins (such as lead) extremely easily, and also act as a
vehicle for pathogens to enter our bodies. Studies predict that 90
percent of our drinking water and tap water could contain
microplastics, and people are beginning to realize the dangers this
solutions used to detect TSS, like microplastics, are expensive
and time consuming. My portable design is powered by a Raspberry Pi
and uses a laser to shine light into the water at a 90-degree angle
to illuminate particles, view them under a microscope and capture
images. Next, an image processing algorithm I developed is used to
convert the images into a histogram that shows particle size
Young Scientist Challenge entry can be used to detect particles as
small as 0.1 microns and concentrations as low as 0.1 PPM in under
ten seconds. The best part? My device was built for under sixty
dollars using items purchased from Amazon.
July 2021, California will
standard methodology for defining microplastics in drinking water and
setting health-based testing methods for water debris. I hope my
invention will contribute to this initiative and lead to cleaner
water for everyone.
advice for the students who are intimidated by math and science?
Don’t be! Stay open minded and give it a try. While it’s easy to
assume that scientific research requires a professional lab setting,
complete with micropipettes and expensive microscopes, that’s not
the case. My Young Scientist Challenge invention was built in my
garage, using materials like LEGO bricks, cookie tins and old
you’re working on a STEM assignment, activity or invention, be bold
and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As long as you are passionate
about your work, others are more than willing to offer advice.
skill that’s helped me connect with STEM experts is cold emailing.
Through cold emails, I’ve successfully reached out to professionals
who helped shape my Young Scientist Challenge design.
problems, infinite solutions
in the Young Scientist Challenge was an exciting, unforgettable
opportunity that will stay with me forever. I encourage other
students to use their curiosity and creativity to think up their own
solutions to the real-world issues they encounter. The guidance and
support of teachers and STEM experts goes a long way. Together, we
can make a positive difference through STEM.
About the Author
Kyle Tianshi is on Twitter at KTianshi.