LIVINGSTON, NJ — Vivek Kanpa, a senior at Livingston High School, recently received the pretigious Dr. Joseph J. Soporowski, Jr. Scholarship from the New Jersey Water Environment Association—awarded annually to a New Jersey high school senior who “demonstrates a commitment to the preservation and enhancement of the water environment.”
The scholarship awards $3,000 to students interested in pursuing careers in water resources engineering and environmental sustainability.
Kanpa said he became interested in aquatic sciences five years ago when his younger brother won a fish at a carnival. When Kanpa ended up caring for the goldfish in his brother’s place, he said it led him to “spend hours researching different aspects of aquatic ecosystems including fish biology, disease treatments, chemical cycles, aquatic plant growth and mechanical filtration.”
“Fish produce toxic compounds in their fecal waste, and I was deeply intrigued by the biological and mechanical methods that degraded the waste into simpler, non-toxic compounds,” he said.
During his many childhood visits to relatives in southern India, Kanpa said he witnessed firsthand the difficulty these communities had obtaining clean water.
When he discovered through research that 800 million people on Earth don’t have access to potable water and that millions die annually from diarrheal diseases and other waterborne diseases, Kanpa wondered whether the filtration and degradation principles of aquarium filters could be used to purify larger water bodies and create potable water.
In September of 2017, Kanpa secured a research lab internship with Dr. Wen Zhang at the Sustainable Environmental Nanotechnology & Nanointerfaces Laboratory While there, he said the lab researchers guided his curiosity by “feeding [him] journal papers to dissect and having [him] assist in experimentation with novel, low-cost water filters like Sweetgum tree seeds that adsorb organic toxins and electrically stimulating water to kill pathogenic microorganisms.”
Kanpa then presented his work at regional conferences and workshops held through organizations such as the NJ Department of Transportation and Passaic Valley Water Commission.
The Livingston teen spent last summer interning through a program at the NJIT Provost High School and began research at the Environmental Microbiology & Biotechnology Laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Mengyan Li and graduate student Fei Li. According to Kanpa, they explored using “burned biomass as a new, low-cost absorptive material for carcinogenic pollutants found in groundwater across the United States.”
Kanpa completed a research paper and submitted his project to several research competitions, including the North Jersey Regional Science Fare, Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, Spellman's Clean Tech Challenge, Stockholm Junior Water Prize and others.
Following his graduation in June, Kanpa is heading to Northeastern University to study bioengineering. He said his objective is to work on developing “effective biological treatments to provide millions across their world their birthright: clean water.”
As a high school student, Kanpa is currently publishing his paper in a peer-reviewed journal—sharing important research that never would have been carried out if not for that fateful goldfish encounter.
NJWEA President Robert J. De Block presented him Kanpa a certificate and the scholarship money during a ceremony held in Atlantic City.