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Sixteen year-old invents method to clean pollution using 'sunscreen and pencils'

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, August 14, 2014, 5:49 PM - Sixteen year-old Samuel Burrow of Lancaster, England has devised a method of cleaning up the world's pollution using common elements found in sunscreen and pencils.

"We all live with pollution every day of our lives," Burrows says in his submission to the 2014 Google Science Fair.

"In the past, people tackled it with the assumption that earth's vast ecosystem will simply absorb the unbalance and 'everything'll be fine'... but with increasing globalisation and population levels, everyone is beginning to feel the strain."

In response to this, Burrow developed a mixture of titanium dioxide and graphene oxide coating that breaks down pollutants when exposed to UV light.

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"I set out to find a way of improving titanium dioxide’s properties, along with creating a cheap, easy-to-use paint-like coating that could be used by anyone, anywhere," Burrow writes.

"This coating could break down pollutants anywhere where light was present. Whilst doing some separate research on graphene (because graphene is awesome), I theorised that graphene’s superior electron transport mechanisms might help prohibit electron-hole recombination in TiO2. … there seemed to be some interest in doping TiO2 with graphene, as indeed it was good at prohibiting electron-hole recombination. I realised that this would allow the coating to be used indoors — increasing its applications.”

The end product could, in theory, become a "self-cleaning" paint. While there already are similar products on the market, they're costly and inefficient.

"My findings suggested that the coating is much stronger, more efficient, and cheaper than the TiO2 catalysts currently in use today," Burrow writes.

The teenager says there are multiple applications for his invention. In sponge form, it could be used to purify water. When mixed with sand, it could filter heavy metals from liquid.

And as a powder, it could act as a powerful water sanitizing system:

"Simply pour the powder into the required container, leave out in the sun, and voilà — clean water,” Burrow says.

In paint-form the mixture would remove pollutants from the environment.

The Google Science Fair finalist is competing against seventeen other brilliant teenagers for the top prize, which includes -- among other things -- a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands and a $50,000 scholarship.

Google will announce the winner in September.

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