Congratulations Hayley Todesco!

This 18 year-old from Calgary, Alberta is the 2014 Google Science Fair winner in the 17-18 year-old category. AND, in another competition, she beat out finalists from 28 other countries to win the prestigious 2014 Stockholm Junior Water Prize.

Hayley has invented a faster way to clean up toxic waste generated by oil sands extraction in the Province of Alberta, using filters made from sand and bacteria. She believes her invention can break down toxic compounds found in oil sands tailings fourteen times more quickly, reducing the time required from centuries to decades. Currently, oil sand tailings are stored in tailings ponds. In 2010, tailings ponds covered about 176 square kilometres. That area is expected to grow to 250 square kilometres by 2020.

As someone who was born and raised in Alberta, she was aware of this pollution problem. She got the idea for her invention from something she saw when she was in grade five. Her class had been raising money to send filters to Africa for drinking water, and a guest speaker helped the students make some filters from pop bottles and sand.

“We put muddy water in the top and it came out totally clean,” Hayley said. “That’s kind of when I had my eureka moment.” She began work designing the filters, using aquarium sand, empty IV bags, and other materials she picked up at hardware and dollar stores. After 120 attempts over a seven-month period, she had a system that worked. It took two years to complete the project, including the experiments and the analysis. Way to go Hayley!