Anna Sato has devoted more than 18 months of research to water filtration projects. But the focus of her lab work sharpened in March of last year,
when a huge earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and its Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Sato, 17, has relatives in Tokyo -- 170 miles south of the stricken plant -- and she worried about radioactive fallout. So she shifted her research at Stony Brook University to removal of radioactive isotopes from water.
The result: a new class of cellulose membranes that form a unique structure capable of absorbing radioactive materials. Sato expects that the low-cost membranes eventually will have a major impact, not only to remove radioactive contaminants from water but also to address a broader global shortage of clean drinking water.
Two full summers in university labs weren't Sato's only time investment. "I was also constantly thinking about it at home," she said.