Bangalore | Solve Ninja team partners with Public Lab to execute city-wide pilot of air-quality device
Why wait for the future when the children are ready now? Finding unlikely allies.
This piece is written by Taanika Shankar, a 17-year-old Solve Ninja from Bangalore who is passionate about monitoring and solving for dangerously sub-optimal air quality levels in her city.
On 1st May 2019, Sairam from Reap Benefit told me that Reap Benefit was going to help with this project by carrying out testings here in Bengaluru and asked me if I’d like to work on the project since I’ve worked on air quality and plant testing before; of course, I agreed at once. Thereafter, we made a team of 5 (Abhay Shekhar, Saujanya Bharadwaj, Taanika Shankar, Deepta Bharadwaj, Vivek Rao) to work on this, had a conference call with a certain Mr.Nicholas, and met at the office twice. The material for the setup and for the testing was shipped from the US and some of the material is stuck at the Customs Office and yet to arrive. Once that arrives, we will be beginning our testing at varied locations. We’re very excited about this!
The organization we are working with — Public Lab is a not-for-profit, international community that works on investigating environmental concerns and democratizing scientific experimenting and problem-solving. Mr. Nicholas Shapiro, a UCLA professor, has been working on a research project to determine if plants improve air quality. The plant of honor is Sansevieria Trifasciata, commonly known as Snake Plants or Mother In Law’s Tongue; the pollutant tested for is formaldehyde, an indoor pollutant arising from incomplete combustion, fresh paint, cleaners and soaps and more.
They found that plants host bacteria in their roots which contribute enormously in removing toxic substances from the air and so, to increase the amount of (polluted) air flowing through the roots of the plant, the plants used for testing are transferred to a hydroculture medium. The set up also includes hydrotrons (clay baked at high temperatures), activated carbon to increase the plant’s purification abilities, an aquarium pump to pump in air to the roots, and a 3D printed mesh insert.
When I was in 8th grade, a few of my batchmates were part of this cool after-school activity called Reap Benefit where they worked on environmental and civic concerns. I found out about this towards the end of 8th and wondered why I didn’t know of it before. The next academic year, I signed up for it too. I remember visiting the compost pit at school, carrying outflow rate tests to find out how much water we could be saving, going to the Reap Benefit office at Indiranagar and building dustbins out of 20-liter bottles, helping to test out prototypes of waterless urinals at the office, and so much more.
Every session excited me and opened my eyes to how much I could do to make the world a better place. I had wanted to do something for the environment and society before I joined Reap Benefit too, but I always assumed I’d do that when I “grew up”; I don’t know how it never hit me before that I didn’t have to wait to do my bit, that I could do something right then as a 14-year-old.
When the year got over, I interned with RB over the summer. Thereafter, if I were to list my interactions with Reap Benefit, I worked with RB in 10th grade as well and kept in touch and stayed involved with RB’s projects well enough to be on the Youth Board now :)
Every time I worked with RB, my eyes opened more and more and I relished in my newfound abilities. I also discovered a whole new part of myself that went from staying back after school to “solve problems” with a bunch of cool people who were coming to our school, to tiring my neighbours with my campaigns for something or the other every summer, to simply just discovering something I love doing so much and am good at. As cliche and cheesy as this sounds, I don’t think I would have been the person I am today if I hadn’t joined Reap Benefit’s after-school program when I was a clueless 14-year-old.
Apart from connecting to the cause Reap Benefit as an organization addresses, what made me stay and continue working with RB over the years is because of the people. Four years ago, a shy 14-year-old girl spent a day (and then more days) at an office full of people working on solutions to real life problems and didn’t feel intimidated (which wasn’t very common for me). Kuldeep and Gautam continue to inspire me all the time and I am so in awe of this amazing empire they have created that I get to be a part of. And regardless of the incredible stuff they have done, they remain some of the humblest people I’ve ever met. Everybody I have ever worked with at RB has always made me, a teenager like most others, feel like someone awesome doing great stuff. Apart from a formal connection, I’ve felt a personal connection with all the mentors I’ve worked with and that’s what doesn’t make me want to leave. And I know that I’m not going to want to leave for a long time to come either.