Wednesday, January 22, 2014
It’s been seven years since Hixson resident Darby Schumacher began research on a stormwater filtration system. She was in fifth grade, and it started as a science project with her brother.
“After my brother and I found out about the ridiculously high pollutant levels in the water, we wanted to make a filter … so we got started that first year,” she reminisced.
The Baylor School senior laughed as she recalled her first attempt at creating a filter, a “very basic” contraption of pantyhose and sand.
“Over the years I’ve done tons of iterations of my filter,” Schumacher said. “Where it stands today, I use nanofiber materials and active carbon.”
Her research recently landed her a place among 300 other student scientists who are semifinalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search 2014. The semifinalists were chosen out of a pool of 1,800 applicants nationwide.
Schumacher’s research has won prizes in multiple other science fairs and competitions, including the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize.
The Intel Science Talent Search is a competition that Schumacher has planned to enter for a long time.
“I always knew it was something I would do my senior year,” she said. “For me, I’ve enjoyed competing in these science fairs because of the people that I meet. I meet a lot of amazing students who really value their education and are passionate about what they do.”
And one of the things she is passionate about is protecting the environment.
“Ninety-five percent of stormwater runoff in Chattanooga flows unfiltered into the Tennessee River,” Schumacher said, explaining that the runoff includes everything from oil to agricultural fertilizers to human and animal waste. “It can harm aquatic life and recreational use.”
Current stormwater filters can cost tens of thousands of dollars, she said, so not only does she want her filter to be highly efficient — she also is researching how to make it as cost effective as possible.
“[The contest has] a really rigorous application process; it’s daunting just to apply,” Intel Foundation Executive Director Wendy Hawkins said from her post in Oregon. “The fact that Darby’s been selected as a semifinalist means she’s a serious scientist. I really hope she sticks with it — she has the potential to change the world.”
And she’s already started to change the world. Schumacher currently runs her own STEM initiative called Stronger STEM, Brighter Blossom, which seeks to help young girls excel in STEM education. The initiative is also her platform for the Miss Tennessee Pageant. She currently represents Chattanooga, with the eventual goal of competing in the Miss America Pageant.
“I enjoy being passionate about things that don’t necessarily go together,” she said. “I’ve always loved that element of surprise.”
She plans to go to college at either Stanford University, to which she received early acceptance, or the University of Southern California.