...but he says she implemented the experiment herself.

"I didn’t have much say except for the safety issues of messing around with arsenic," says Lamb.

Nominations Chair Dr. Charles Sorber, University of Texas, says that after reading 20-page papers and watching presentations from all 46 participants at the national competition in Portland the fact that VanderWeele was sensitive that arsenic in water is a global issue and provided a fairly inexpensive solution made her a cut above the competition.

"It’s a practical project and has considerable applicability, especially when there’s not a lot of resources in certain areas," says Sorber. "This is very natural."

Lamb, who has also judged many science fairs, says that the fact that VanderWeele had a broad and deep knowledge of everything related to her project helped her outshine the competition.

"She’s a politically astute and humanistic kid interested in helping out people, not in making a bazillion dollars," adds Lamb.

VanderWeele says that while her project would work well in warmer climates with native hyacinth plants, the Midwestern U.S. continues to have a thriving arsenic issue.

"I don’t think the plants would be as much of a possibility as other methods here, because they weren’t as good at reducing arsenic," she says. "They’re not as good at doing low-concentration levels."

VanderWeele was awarded $2,500 and will compete in the International SWJP in Stockholm, Sweden during World Water Week, August 20-27. The SWJP, which started with competitors from seven countries, will have more than 30 countries present this year. The winner, which will be awarded in conjunction with the Stockholm Water Symposium on August 22, will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a crystal sculpture. VanderWeele says that she’s not too worried about what happens at the competition, and that she looks most forward to meeting kids from around the world.

While also unsure of the outcome, Sorber says that VanderWeele will prove to be "a worthy competitor."

Sorber says that the competition encourages students to use the scientific method for problem solving and analysis.

"That leads to the student going to college in areas that are similar," he says. "It’s our hope that because of this competition, there will be more young people that will choose environmental science and environmental engineering."

While VanderWeele admits she hasn’t thought too much about college, she says she will probably continue studying water quality.

The U.S. competition is organized by the Water Environment Federation (WEF), with support from ITT Industries and The Coca-Cola Company. ITT Industries is also the international sponsor. This year's U.S. competition was hosted by the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association representing Oregon, Idaho and Washington

Related links:

Stockholm Junior Water Prize

EPA — Arsenic in Drinking Water

Arsenic in Bangladesh