Teen’s work on lakes takes her to Milky Way

Sahithi Pingali’s crowdsourced data collection platform to save water bodies gets her universal recognition.

Published: 14th June 2017 11:06 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th June 2017 05:51 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The frothy Bengaluru lakes set off a warning bell among authorities and civillians on the need to act against climate change and clean up our water bodies.
One such act by Sahithi Pingali, a student of class 12 at Inventure Academy has found her universal recognition. A minor planet in the Milky Way will be named after Sahithi for her efforts in documenting the health of city lakes.

Sahithi has worked for two years with the academy’s Our Lakes, Our Voices (OLOV) initiative that makes efforts to revive Bengaluru lakes.
The 16-year-old has built a system  that allows school students and citizens - even ones without scientific experience – to easily gather scientific water testing data, and to also share, analyse and understand that data. Hence, crowdsourcing.

“My system helps citizens collect data through an affordable, easy-to-use mobile-based water testing kit,” says Sahithi.
The mobile app works with electronic sensors and chemical test strips to let the user collect several physical and chemical parameters of a water sample. The sensors sync with the app by bluetooth.
“The chemical test strips work with an automatic phone-camera based color recognition and mapping software that I’ve built into the app,” she says.

Snap waste, vegetation
All one has to do is put the test strip inside a dark box, point your phone camera and flash at it, and click.
The app maps the captured strip colour to the contaminant concentration value, making everything easier and more accurate. The app also lets people collect pictures of bioindicators such as birds or frogs near a lake, and pollution observations such as trash dumps or sewage inlets. It then takes all this data – physical and chemical parameters and pictures – and uploads it to a common cloud.
The second part of her project is the open, global cloud platform.

“It’s one thing to collect raw data, but I felt it was very important to make this data available and understandable to all,” she says.
On the cloud platform, Sahithi developed analytics and visualisations to help people use the water testing data. “My favourite is one I call ‘the water health map of the world’. It’s basically a world map which shows you all the latest water testing data for bodies all over the world,” she adds.
And not only does the platform show you raw data, it also color-codes water bodies according to their safety level. For example, blue means the water is fit for drinking (with disinfection). Purple means it’s fine to bathe in. Yellow that it’s good for fish culture, and so on. This makes it easy for people to keep track of what their water is safe for.

Track changes over time
She has also written programs on the cloud that allow researchers to track how specific lakes and parameters are changing over time, and compare these parameters to desirable and permissible limits.
Based on monitored parameters the cloud can also generate recommended actions for a lake or suggest nearby model lakes where similar pollution issues have already been fixed. “Hopefully these will help activists get better insight on how to revive these water bodies,” says Sahithi.
She has already applied this system to monitor 10 Bengaluru lakes, and as she travelled around the world for science fairs, she has been adding data from cities she visit – from Hyderabad and Delhi to Houston and LA.
“The ultimate aim is for this platform to become an unprecedented treasure trove of data, a place where anyone can know the health of any freshwater body across the world at any time,” she says.

Become your lake’s gaurdian
Sahithi Pingali shares a few easy steps
Bengalureans can take to save city’s waterbodies.
■  Monitor and care for water bodies that you live and work next to
■ Check on your nearest lake’s status
■ Take pictures of any issues you see and share them.
■ Carry out water testing as regularly as possible.

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