WEF Winners

New Jersey high school student wins 2019 award; trip to compete in Stockholm

Fear not of a name, or geographical discrepancies. The award is for being the best in the U.S. The prize is Stockholm—and $10,000.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) (not to be confused with World Economic Forum) announced June 18 that Sonja Michaluk (pictured, below right) has won the 2019 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize. The Alexandria, Va.-based organization called it “the nation’s most prestigious youth competition for water-related research” in a press release sent to Electrical Apparatus via e-mail.


Sonja Michaluk, winner of the 2019 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize.—WEF photo

Michaluk, a student at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, N.J., explored the use of DNA barcoding to measure the health of waterways with larval Chironomidae (order Diptera), the most widespread macroinvertebrate family. I’ll wait while you unearth your old high school science book.

She won $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm to represent the United States at the international competition in late August.

Students from 45 states and Puerto Rico competed in the national finals June 13-16 at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. The Stockholm Junior Water Prize aims to increase students’ interest in water issues, research, and careers, as well as to raise awareness about global water challenges. The competition is open to projects focused on improving water quality, water resource management, water protection, and drinking water and wastewater treatment.

The two U.S. runners-up were Noel Lange of Alabama and Ankush Dhawan of Indiana, who each received $1,000. Haley Jostes of Minnesota received the Bjorn von Euler Innovation in Water Scholarship Award from Xylem Inc. Mehaa Amirthalingam of Texas received the James L. Condon Recognition for Environmental Stewardship.

“The health and future of our global water environment depends on the kind of ingenuity and innovation the Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition showcases,” said WEF Executive Director Eileen O’Neill. “WEF takes pride in supporting these young scientists as they work to solve some of the most complex challenges facing the water sector.”

Michaluk’s winning project, “A Novel Method of Monitoring the Health of our Global Fresh Water Supply using DNA Barcoding of Chironomidae (Diptera),” emphasized a forecast that 66 percent of the U.S. population will experience water scarcity within a decade, leaving residents more dependent on surface water for drinking. Current surface water monitoring methods rely on expensive and technically challenging manual identification of biological samples. DNA barcoding, Michaluk noted, “results in more accurate and precise waterway health data, adding significant value for monitoring scarce water resources.”

The judges commented: “Beyond the very impressive research Sonja performed in her study of Chironomidae DNA barcoding to determine water quality health, she also applied her knowledge to a local non-profit water institute to improve her own community watershed. These students are creating solutions to improve communities across the world, and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize is a testament to the importance of investing in the future of our industry. The diversity of students and ideas this year demonstrated solutions for our world’s water challenges will come from young people of all backgrounds.”

In the U.S., WEF and its Member Associations organize the regional, state, and national competitions with support from Xylem Inc., who also sponsors the international competition.

For more information on the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, click here. For a list of state winners, click here. Also, be on the lookout for EA’s WEFTEC show preview in our upcoming August issue! WEFTEC takes place September 21-25 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

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