Montclair teen wins $25,000 scholarship for air quality research
By ERIN ROLL
Eeshan Tripathii is working on a project that may make it safer to breathe indoors.
It has earned the Montclair resident $25,000 and he is not even out of high school yet.
Tripathii came up with a prototype for a ductless, air-filtration system. His work has earned him a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
The institute gives out scholarships to students who demonstrate promise in art, the sciences, literature and music. This year’s recipients will be honored at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on Sept. 28.
Because the system is patent-pending, Tripathii can’t go into details about what the system looks like and how it works. Getting the patent could take a few years at least.
Simply put, the device monitors when air chemicals are at safe levels, and then helps filter the air, he said.
A senior at the Dalton School in New York, Tripathii is in the process of applying to colleges. He and his family have lived in Montclair for about 13 years.
He began taking an interest in indoor air quality, just after Hurricane Sandy. He noticed a strange smell in the house and wondered if there was a gas leak somewhere. He had been tinkering with a homemade air sensor in his spare time, an offshoot of a longtime interest in sensors and small robotics, and the sensor indicated that there was gas in the air. He told his parents, who called PSE&G.
Over the next few years, he began taking more of an interest in air quality, working alongside a professor from Cornell who is an expert in the field.
He did a Google Science Fair project that entailed how indoor air pollutants affected expectant parents. Parents may be buying new furniture or painting the nursery: “Those two things release tons of volatile organic compounds.”
His research also took him to how indoor air quality affects younger children, which led him to the ductless system.
Studies have shown that carbon dioxide concentrations above 800 parts per million can be dangerous to human health. The average American high school, he said, has about 1,400 parts per million.
Tripathii concentrated on home use for his ductless system, but he evisions the ductless system in schools and other institutions.
Tripathii also paid close attention to low-income households, which are more likely to have higher medical bills and less likely to have a good quality air filtration system.
Since Montclair has lots of trees and green spaces, it has good outdoor air quality. But Montclair is also a town with a high concentration of old houses, so indoor air quality is an issue. “In winter it’s way worse because you don’t have natural ventilation,” he said, as residents are more likely to have their windows closed.
Air conditioning units can be hard to maintain, and there is a risk of bacteria collecting in the ducts and the drip pans.
“It’s far from anything that’s solved for a lot of people,” he said.
Tripathii takes an interest in architecture as well, including designing smart buildings. He also installed the Montclair Read With Me bookshelf near the Upper Montclair train station on Bellevue Avenue.
“In general, I like doing a lot of things.”