Juicy innovation helps Mumbai teens bag top award at science fair

Jan 21, 2015, 14:31 IST | Sadaguru Pandit

Kajol Shelke and Sakshi Pandey, Class IX students from a Ghatkopar school, are the inventors of Agro Dehydrator, using which they condensed vapours released during fruit dehydration into juice

At a time when various politicians and academicians have come under fire for promoting bizarre scientific explanations, two city girls have shown that a scientific innovation is nothing but sound application of mind. Thanks to their hard work and perseverance, the two 13-year-olds will be representing the country and their school at an international science expo.

Kajol Shelke and Sakshi Nair with the Agro Dehydrator
Kajol Shelke and Sakshi Pandey with the Agro Dehydrator

Kajol Shelke and Sakshi Pandey, Class IX students from North Mumbai Welfare Society High School, Ghatkopar, along with two other teams from Rajkot and Ahmedabad, will be representing India at the upcoming edition of the International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project (I-SWEEEP) Olympiad in Houston, Texas, from May 7 to 11.

The teens won the ticket to I-SWEEEP after they bagged the Grand Gold Prize at the recently concluded Indian Science and Engineering Fair. The event was organised by the Science Society of India between January 10 and 12.

Whiz kids
What won the girls accolades at the event was their ‘Agro Dehydrator’. Their innovation, a re-engineered microwave oven, not only enhances shelf life of veggies and fruits within 35 minutes of dehydration, but also transforms mineral and vitamin-rich vapours released during dehydration into a healthy juice.

“I still can’t believe that our innovation will be featured at an international event. We are living a dream,” said Rajeshwari Nair, a faculty member who stood by the girls and guided them whenever needed. The idea to innovate the dehydrator germinated while the girls were on a study tour to understand the dehydration process of chiku at a farm in Dahanu.

“During our study tour, we noticed how chiku slices were dehydrated using sunlight. That’s when we thought that instead of losing the minerals and vitamins during the process, why not try to condense vapours and check whether the liquid formed has these minerals and vitamins,” said Sakshi.

Hard work pays
While the idea sounded brilliant in January 2014, it took Kajol and Sakshi 10 gruelling months to do their research, produce the equipment, make modifications and have the final product.

The process started with modification of an unused oven at Sakshi’s residence. The girls wanted to make it workable by attaching an extra component that could hold the vapours, given out during dehydration, and condense them.

“We faced myriad technical difficulties, but the glitches only made us better. We initially used a plastic tube to collect vapours, but it melted due to the heat produced by the oven. We had to maintain an optimum temperature for dehydration.

The most important part was to prove that the liquid obtained after condensation had similar percentage of minerals and vitamins as the fruit. After 10 months of trial and error, we successfully managed to achieve our goal,” said Sakshi. The liquid was tested at Haffkine Institute, Parel, to prove the claims made by the girls and it tested positive.

Solid support
Besides ensuring that Kajol and Sakshi had support from the faculty members, the school management ensured that missed classes and other academic activities did not affect their goal. “Considering their enthusiasm, we encouraged and helped them with resources whenever they fell short.

What makes this victory special is that despite being a school with modest means and our students belonging to middle-class backgrounds, we managed to bag the Grand Gold Prize,” said school co-ordinator Asha Mohan.

Other victories
In another competition, Std IX students Deep Mehta and Mayur Iyer from North Mumbai Welfare Society High School won gold at the district level and silver at the national level.

The idea that won them these medals was a possible solution to tackle the dengue problem that has haunted the city in the recent past. The duo made an insect repellent using coffee powder residue.

“We tested it on Aedes Aegypti, the mosquito responsible for dengue fever, at different stages of its life cycle and every single time the mosquito died within seconds,” said Iyer. The project was inspired by a remedy Iyer’s grandmother would use to keep mosquitoes away. She would burn the residue.

What is I-SWEEEP?
It is a science competition open to high school undergraduate students. The inaugural academic competition was launched in the spring of 2008 with a goal to bring the best and brightest math and science focused students from around the world to Houston for an Olympiad of epic academic proportions.

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