How we integrated human practices into our project. Take a look at the human practices summary page and the silver medal criterion page for more about human practices.

Pittsburgh Public Schools

Pittsburgh Public Schools tested the water from all schools' water fountains this summer as a proactive measure against exposing the students to lead. Any water fountains found to contain lead were removed. New filtered water dispensers were also added to each school. Aife created a video about the dangers of lead poisnoning for the teachers to show students, so that the students could better understand why their water fountains were tested over the summer. Take a look below, or visit the link here!

A pamphlet recently issuesed by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority notified customers that elevated lead levels were found in several water samples from the Pittsburgh region. Residents can now request free kits to sample their water. However, it is too late to prevent lead intake from contaminated water and too early to know the extent of the damage. Our sensor would have provided residents a way to test their water as often as they pleased, and the elevated lead levels could have been detected earlier. You can read the pamphlet here.

Blood-Lead Levels in Children

No paper draws a correlation between the level or duration of lead exposure and blood-lead levels in children. This is especially problematic in situations where lead is suddenly found in water, such as in Flint, Michigan, or Pittsburgh. There is no way to predict the damage that has been done to children, the most vulnerable population to lead poisoning. Thus, we developed a model to predict the blood-lead levels of children based on the level and duration of their exposure to lead. The model can help authorities decide what actions to take when high levels of lead are found in water. The model also helped us identify an ideal detection limit for our system. Read more about our model on our Model page.

Product Design

From our discussion with Dr. Bain, we decided to focus more on lead detection than thallium detection. In the circuit, it was a simple matter of switching the DNAzyme. However, the general population would benefit more from a lead sensor than a thallium sensor. Lead is a much more widespread problem because many houses still use lead pipes, which can corrode in acidic water. The risk lead contamination poses, especially to young children, means that lead detection is more pressing than thallium detection. Although thallium is also very poisonous, the risk of thallium poisoning from water is not as great. We also decided to use a reporter that could be detected with the naked eye. Since LacZ is an enzyme, it is limited by the amount of substrate, not by the amount of protein that is produced in the cell-free reaction. Also, the color change from yellow to purple is obvious, which would decrease the uncertainty in reading the results of the test.

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