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People of Bedford: Rachel Brouwer

Our editor catches up with a young Bedford inventor who built a water-filtration system that’s gaining international attention

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Rachel Brouwer is becoming a household name in Bedford after she invented a water-filtration system that’s gaining international attention. Last year, Bedford Magazine interviewed the now 14-year-old student about that project, which won her more honours than she ever imagined.

Brouwer invented her system after a family vacation to New Hampshire. There, she saw a warning at a lake that told visitors to stay away from its contaminated waters. After lots of experimentation and research, she created a prototype, that uses solar pasteurization to kill bacteria.

Brouwer’s system is gaining her plenty of awards and honours. When we first spoke with her, she won gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair as well as an award for the Best Junior Environmental Project Challenge.

Since then, she was awarded the Bedford Youth Volunteer Award and the Nova Scotia Red Cross Humanitarian Award for 2016. She’s making the rounds in the media, too, with appearances on Finding Stuff Out, an Ontario-based television show for kids. She’s now on the advisory committee for Owl Magazine.

She also spoke at the QueensPin, a networking and fundraising group for women. And she was asked to serve on the panel for Les Tabiettistes, and education and innovation conference to take place in Ottawa in January.

What has happened since we spoke last summer?
I made Team Canada. I was one of eight girls on the team. When I went to Arizona for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. I placed second in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category.

What was the response to your system?
They were really interested. A lot of people gave me business cards and they wanted to follow up and help me out.

Have you changed the system at all?
It’s the same concept right now. I am working on further developing the wax indicator because that is the innovative part of it. It’s going to be tested in Uganda in December. I am trying to get the wax indicator so it’s food safe.

How did you arrange for it to be tested in Uganda?
So, it was from a meeting I had last year with an organization called Chat to the Future. We met with them, I FaceTimed them. They were really impressed with my system, but they were wondering about all the heavy metal contamination in Uganda so I had to further develop that part of my system.

What did you have to do to it so it could remove heavy metals?
I found out banana peels mixed with cotton actual removes really high levels of arsenic.

Where else are you testing it?
After the plans last summer didn’t work out to go to Kenya, we’re focusing on Uganda right now. When we get the results from Uganda, I am hoping to take that information, change my system, and modify it so it works better and then get it into other countries. It’s kind of my test run… I am learning that as soon as you think you have something that works, some part of it has to be changed.

Have you met anyone along the way who gave you advice?
I haven’t really had a mentor through this. It’s just kind of the same inspiration from day one and that’s Malala [Yousafzai]. I actually recently got an email from Malala. That was really exciting.

How did that happen?
I was also contacted by a princess of Pakistan [Jilani]. She knows Malala and she told Malala all about my system. She said it’s so important for youth to be doing this and it will solve a lot of problems.

What do you have to do to get ready for Uganda?
I am still trying to figure out my wax indicator. I also have to make several wax indicators. And I think Chat to the Future is getting their Grade 3s involved, so I have to think of a program that can involve them. I will be able to Skype with people in Uganda. I will be making more versions of my system.

Where do you see this going?
I have filed a patent pending. I have one year to raise enough money to actually file the patent. So I am in the process of deciding what I want to do. This isn’t a moneymaker here. I am just doing this to try to help people in need.

Would you like to do this kind of work when you’re out of school?
I think so. We actually had a project this year at school where we had to do job shadowing and I picked environmental engineering. It’s very cool to see how my system fits into that category.

What are you learning about yourself?
It’s hard to think about it all, honestly. All I wanted to do was to win first place in my Grade 7 class fair. I am learning passions I never discovered before. I am learning more about what I want to do.

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