THE BLOG
08/30/2013 01:39 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2013

How Collaboration Can Further Innovation

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

A drop of water is very small; in fact, it's only about 3 mm in diameter. But what happens when you have not just one drop, but 5000? Now you have enough to fill a whole cup and quench your thirst on a hot day. Instead of just 5000 drops, what if you had a million? Or how about one billion? Add more and more tiny drops of water and soon there is enough water to fill 97% of the earth. Alone, a single drop of water can't do much, but when many drops come together, they can sustain life on our planet.

Just like water drops come together to form oceans, when tackling global problems, it is essential for people to work together. Individually, one can have a brilliant idea, but when one collaborates with others, the true potential of their ideas are amplified. With multiple people brain-storming and collaborating, there is more creativity and more ideas with powerful outcomes. A network is created to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss what should be done for a better future. Teams can create an environment where people can brain-storm or build on ideas proposed by others and harness their efforts in finding better solutions and work together in implementing them. Where one person may be weak in a particular area, another may be strong and together they can provide the perfect solution. When many minds are set on achieving a single goal, it becomes easier to solve even the toughest of problems.

The National Academy of Engineering lists providing access to clean water as one of the fourteen grand challenges our planet is facing today. Water, the most essential element for life, is becoming increasingly scarce. Approximately one billion people lack access to clean drinking water and this problem is getting worse with the ever increasing environmental pollution that also threatens our valuable water resources. Access to clean and safe water is a gigantic problem that needs not one but many big solutions. This requires a truly multidisciplinary collaborative effort of individuals and groups involving scientist, administrators, social workers, community leaders, engineers, and also the media and bloggers who tell compelling stories about the water crisis.

I am very passionate about helping people gain access to clean water and I have been making my own contributions in finding solutions. Recently, I participated in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP). The SJWP is the world's most prestigious youth award for water related science projects. My research paper for this competition described my study on developing a photocatalytic system (involving silver doped titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) that could harness not only ultraviolet light but also visible light from the sun in purifying water. I was the New Hampshire state winner for the 2013 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize and as a finalist, I was invited to the national competition held in Portland, Oregon. In Portland, I had the opportunity to meet high schools students from across the country and experts from industry, academia, and public entities who share the same passion and enthusiasm for solving the global water crisis as I do.

girls in science

After two days of activities that included a trip to a waste water treatment plant and a poster presentation, I learned that I was one of the two runner-ups in the nation! Leah Huling from Oklahoma, the other runner up, focused on the transport and fate of titanium dioxide nano- and microparticles in wastewater treatment systems. The winner, Anirudh Jain from Oregon, created a novel method to reduce the toxicity of silver nanoparticle pollution by sulfidation. He will present his project in the international competition to be held in Stockholm, Sweden during world water week (September 2013). One project uses titanium dioxide and silver to treat water, another mitigates any harmful effects of the treatment process (if any) and the third can assess the chemical alteration of any contaminates and their mobility. Each study is novel in its own way and by combining them, a more comprehensive and complete solution can be achieved.

girls in science

Participating in this competition gave me an opportunity to meet some of the most imaginative young minds. Even though each of our projects was unique in its own way, we all had the same goal: solve global challenges pertaining to water. Young minds from all over the country have come together to tackle a pressing problem that is facing our world today - the water crisis. By interacting with other students, I realized how much time and effort they put into their own individual projects. Some of the students were rising freshman in college who continued their project throughout their high school years and may even continue similar research in college. I couldn't help but think about the possibilities of collaboration between us working towards a common cause.

girls in science

Many great inventions of our time did not spring fully formed from a single brain. If we can work together, think together and put our ideas together, the possibilities are endless. Alexander Graham Bell stated "Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds". As I continue my research on water, I hope to collaborate, share and work with others who have similar interests and move towards the same goal of clean drinking water to all.