Reflections on My International SJWP trip to Stockholm
By Anirudh, 2011 Caroline D. Bradley Scholar
2011 Caroline D. Bradley Scholar and then high school freshman Anirudh was selected as the winner of the United States Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP), “the world’s most prestigious award for water-related science and technology projects.” Anirudh recently traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to represent the U.S. at the International SJWP competition with his project, “Use of Sulfidation as a Novel Method for Reducing the Toxicity of Silver Nanoparticle Pollution.”
As the winner of U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) competition, I had the honor of representing the United States at the international SJWP competition held in Stockholm, Sweden in the first week of September. I am immensely grateful to Water Environment Federation (WEF) for giving me this fantastic opportunity. The overall experience, both inside and outside the competition, was incredibly enriching and somewhat hard to encapsulate in words, but I will try.
The days leading up to the competition were somewhat frenzied. Ms. Stevi Hunt-Cottrell of WEF took care of all the logistics and also supported me tirelessly with the minutest details on requirements for SJWP poster, dress codes and many other important things I would possibly not have thought of. As I sat on the long flight, I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. I had the tremendous responsibility of doing a good job of representing the U.S. in a global competition in a sea of worthy competitors from exotic places all over the world! I was unsure if I could relate to them, or communicate with them effectively, given the cultural and language barriers.
Soon after I landed in the Stockholm airport, I happened to meet the students from Netherlands and France. Almost immediately my initial fears were proven to be unfounded. All of them spoke fluent English and were so easy to talk to. Not only did we have similar interests in science and water research, we connected on other things such as soccer. This became a recurring theme as I met the rest of the group later. I made many good friends during that short week – people I would always stay in touch with. I still remember how seven of my closest friends stayed up until 4:00 AM on the last day to see me off to the airport. I was extremely touched that they all sacrificed their sleep to say good-bye to me.
It was enlightening to learn about the diverse and unique cultures that everyone came from. I have come away with a heightened awareness of the world. All of us were constantly asking questions about each other’s country and lifestyle. People were especially curious about the U.S., and it was fun in equal measure to confirm or dispel the preconceived notions they had.
The actual competition was truly a humbling experience. The diverse research topics spanned a broad range of water-related research from scientific exploration like “new Antarctic water bacterial strains capable of purifying water” to engineering solutions such as a “remote-controlled helicopter capable of sensing soil moisture.” I learnt a lot about scientific techniques and innovative approaches as fellow competitors patiently explained their projects to me. Since the competition is held during the “World Water Week” conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the latest water-related research being conducted all around the world. Sometimes, people from the conference would even walk into our section of the fair and ask us about our projects simply because they were curious. It was my first experience of a professional conference, and it was fascinating to see the confluence of scientific research and industry.
As for the judging, the international jury was very knowledgeable and came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Though they did ask some challenging questions, they were not intimidating. The interview felt more like a scientific dialogue than an inquisition.
There were other incredibly unique experiences which added a special luster to the trip. I had the privilege of shaking hands with the Crown Princess of Sweden, who is the patron of the international SJWP. I also attended the Royal Stockholm Water Prize Ceremony and Banquet and ate in the same dining hall where the Nobel Award Ceremony dinner is held. I had never imagined I would get to meet a person of royalty and that I would get to dine in such distinguished surroundings and company. We were also given time to explore the beautiful city of Stockholm. I particularly enjoyed the old town and the farmers’ market and exploring the city of Stockholm, from parks to monuments. This was a great time to unwind and get to know everyone even better.
I did not ultimately win a prize. I would be lying if I said that this did not cause a tinge of disappointment since I thought I had done well at the judging. However, that’s all it was – a tinge – because it was trivial in comparison to the sum of the positive experiences. I know how worthy my competition was, and the trip was an amazing prize in itself. I simply wish it had lasted longer. I am very glad that I entered the Stockholm Junior Water Prize and would encourage anyone with water-related research to actively consider participating. There is a good chance that you will literally shake a Princess’ hand!