Yin researches drought, seawater desalination, named scientific scholar

A shortage of water has become a global issue, especially in California. For years, California has been experiencing a megadrought.

Having been affected by this problem for most of his life, Andre Yin (12) decided to try to do something about it by writing a research project on methods to improve the process of seawater desalination.

During the procedure of seawater desalination, sea water is taken in through pipes and put through an osmosis system to remove the salt. The remaining product is clean, drinkable water.

However, Yin says that the main problems with this procedure are the high maintenance costs and the amount of energy required.

For the Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS), formerly known as Intel, Yin decided to research on seawater desalination and work to improve it because it was the most relatable issue to him.

“Growing up in California, I’ve experienced recurring droughts year after year,” Yin said. “I somehow wanted to apply this passion [for science] to the real world.”

Yin decided to begin his research on sea water purification through the Simons Research Program in New York last summer.

He was given seven weeks to research on seawater desalination at Stony Brook University. When he returned to San Diego, he continued the research he began in the summer in New York with some help from a professor and mentor he met through the program.

“My mentors helped me understand fundamental concepts such as mechanism and provided suggestions on the report after I finished writing and editing,” Yin said.

“They introduced me to lab equipment and helped me answer questions.”

According to Yin, he was self-motivated to write his research paper and find solutions to improve sea water desalination.

Yin said he combined his passion for science and experiences of droughts by trying to find a way to maintain the percentage of salt filtered by the membrane while growing the amount of water filtered per unit so it could be used for drinking and agriculture operations.

According to Yin, increasing the amount of water that is filtered during a specific amount of time helps take away more salt concentration in the water while making the purifying process more cost-effective.

Yin’s research underwent a trial-and-error process before he was able to settle on a solution. He had to change various factors such as temperature and concentration of the cellulose nanofibers (CN) to fit his solution.

He first started with a water purifier membrane, which consisted of two main layers: the substrate, which is used to maintain the structure, and the barrier which is used to filter anything in the membrane.

“There were many times where I tested a water purifier membrane and it broke completely because the pressure was too high or the salt leaked right through,” Yin said.

Eventually, Yin used CN, found naturally in plants, to add a third layer to the membrane in order to strengthen the other two layers.

Through his experiment, Yin was able to duplicate the membranes, increasing the efficiency of water filtration by 26 percent.

After submitting his research project in the beginning of the school year, he was notified early January that he was named one of the 300 high school scientific scholars in the nation by STS.

Along with this, Westview earned $2,000 with Yin being named a scholar.

Yin hopes that this money will help support the high school education, specifically the science department.

Regeneron STS is the nation’s oldest science competition for high school seniors. Students can apply for it after conducting a research project on a topic of their choice, and the research can be done in a lab or at home.

In the competition, students are able to submit their work for a written based section or a presentational category.

Although this research project Yin submitted is over, he hopes to search for more solutions for science related problems in the future.

Reflecting on the entire application and research process, Yin says that he was able to experience something new with professionals in the science industry such as college professors.

“In school research, we are mainly replicating experiments that have already been done by other researchers in the past,” Yin said. “We learn a lot of concepts and not often do we get  to apply this knowledge to global challenges, it was really mind opening.”

Yin also learned more about the research process while trying to reach a solution for his experiment.

“People say that research is a very long process characterized by many more failures than successes, and getting to experience that truth firsthand was very inspiring,” Yin said.

The research process required Yin to manipulate factors such as a chemical concentrations, temperature, and humidity levels, ultimately strengthening his mental endurance.

“It’s quite a huge jump from high school science to research laboratory [because I am] trying to discover something new,” Yin said.

Yin was also able to experience the real world of science by learning new concepts and working with professionals.

For his college future, Yin said that he is eager to pursue his  passion for science for the betterment of the environment.

“It’s something that I’m looking forward to doing in college,” Yin said. “To join any researchers or study groups doing environmental projects.”