News.May 05, 2022

Science can change the world: Stockholm Junior Water Prize Winner

Brown woman with a smile, multicolour scarf over an off white sweater
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Radhika Gupta
Communications Manager,
Ania Andersch (World Water Week)
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Ania Andersch
Senior Manager,
World Water Week and Prizes

The People’s Choice winner of 2021 explains how the award has impacted his life and those around him. He tells us that the people of Brazil “believe more in science than they did before”.

Gabriel smiling for the camera with a thumbs up
Gabriel has developed a filter to remove microplastics from drinking water.

Gabriel Fernandes Mello Ferreira grew up in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by beaches. Ever since, he was fascinated with water and was curious to learn more. He went on to research about the presence of microplastics in water and was keen to find solutions.

The journey since and before

You were the winner of the People’s Choice Award for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize from 2021. How has the journey been since, and what are you doing today?

A lot of doors opened for me after I won the Prize. I was invited to multiple news channels of Brazil for interviews. The feeling came very close to becoming Brazil’s celebrity for sustainability. I still continue to receive invitations to conduct lectures all around the country in order to raise awareness around the problem of microplastics in water. I’ve talked with more than 600 students. I have shared my knowledge on the presence of microplastics in water, and the consequences such as ingestion in humans through drinking water, and the steps I have taken to tackle this problem.

I am working with Xylem, one of the companies that is a partner with SIWI for organising the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. I am working with colleagues to realise the prototype that I had created for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition.

What is the concern around plastic contamination and how does your project tackle this challenge?

A few weeks back news channels reported the presence of microplastics in human blood. A lot of people were shocked to know about this. But I have known this problem for a while – microplastics already exist in our bodies. So, the quantity of microplastics that humans ingest, mainly through water or consumption of fish, is definitely a great concern when it comes to plastic contamination.

I have developed a filter for water treatment plants, that helps to get rid of microplastics from drinking water. This is important because a lot of water treatment authorities are unaware about the presence of microplastics. Even if they are aware, the solutions are missing in some cases.

I have worked with several prototypes, and I continue to improve on the design. For example, at the start of the project, my idea was to introduce the filter at the start of the water treatment process. But along the way, I learned that we could avoid a lot of large pieces of trash like water bottles, if the filter was applied at the end of the process, when the water is already clean.

“I feel that I became a role model to many in terms of how science and scientists are viewed in Brazil.”

Gabriel Fernandes Mello Ferreira

What has it meant to be the recipient of the People’s Choice Award for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize?

A lot. First, I became the very first Brazilian to win this category of the prize. Brazil has been participating since 2017. I feel that I became a role model to many in terms of how science and scientists are viewed in Brazil – perhaps scientists do not receive the kind of recognition that they should. This award changes that in a way. Science can really change the world. The one month of recognition across Brazil’s news channels meant that people believe more in science than they did before. Several teenagers were also inspired.

Second and the most important: I have contact with people of my age from all over the world. I have a lot of friends from different cultures with the same desire to solve problems. Normally, it has been difficult to meet teenagers who share the same interest as me.

In which year will you graduate from school? What are your aspirations for the future?

I will finish my school in December 2022. I hope to study abroad in the field of mechatronics, and learn about new cultures. It is something that I realised during my journey with Stockholm Junior Water Prize.

Are you the next winner?

The prestigious competition Stockholm Junior Water Prize has been an annual event since 1997. In national competitions across the world and in the international final, students between 15 and 20 years old are honoured for their water-related science projects.

Learn more and participate