We got the chance to connect with Kyle Tianshi from Clearwater Innovation. The non-profit is a student-run environmental advocacy program founded by Kyle and his sister Emily Tianshi.
With a concern for the global water crisis and water pollution, they have been conducting research related to moisture harvesting and microplastic contamination from their home lab.
They encourage students to use their creativity to solve environmental problems and host events and educational programs to support them.
Kyle Tianshi and his sister Emily Tianshi founded Clearwater Innovation in 2019. Growing up, Tianshi’s parents did not let him or his sister drink tap water. As immigrants from China, they never had access to drinkable tap water.
Troubled by this issue, Tianshi investigated water pollution. He was shocked to find 83% of bottled water and 93% of tap water contain microplastics.
Growing up in California, water scarcity was also an issue that impacted them during droughts. They became concerned with the global water crisis and what was being done to solve the problem. These two issues were at the forefront of both Tianshi and his sister’s research and action.
Both siblings do research in the family garage, using supplies they find around the house. “I used legos, duct tape, and these cookie tins to build my mock-up for my device. And my sister used spray bottles and a $20 microscope she ordered from Amazon,” says Tianshi.
Addressing Microplastic Contamination
Microplastics are becoming a rapidly emerging contaminant in water sources, bringing up more and more health concerns because of their unknown biological effects. California State Water Board is defining a standard methodology to test drinking water for microplastics. Tianshi wanted to contribute to this initiative.
“I designed an easy, affordable, and efficient device that can characterize nanoscopic and microscopic plastics in drinking water,” says Tianshi.
The device uses a laser to detect microplastics as small as five nanometers. This portable detector can be used for researching microplastic contamination, industrial water quality control, and homes with no access to filtration systems. Tianshi has received numerous awards for his innovative invention.
Water Scarcity Action
Emily’s research was focused on Torrey Pine needles, a tree well known for its capability to harvest moisture from fog that only grows in San Diego and Santa Rosa Island in California.
“In this project, Emily studies the needle harvesting moisture on the microscopic level in real-time and identified the surface properties that contribute to moisture harvesting,” says Tianshi, “She then biomimickes those characters to a material and a device and hopes to solve the drought problem.”
Emily’s research won several prestigious national science and environmental awards.
Clearwater Coming to Life
When Tianshi and Emily first started their research, they didn’t know doing research at home was feasible. They wanted to encourage other young individuals that they could do the same.
“Many people were very interested in our projects because they were quite meaningful and innovative, but they don’t need expensive lab equipment. So through that, we decided to found Clearwater Innovation to get more kids involved,” says Tianshi.
Kyle and Emily recruited over 50 environmental advocates across the US, many of them with their own science research projects. They run events, interview young water heroes, write blogs, post Instagram art, and run a Twitter account in order to generate awareness.
One of their events was a “Plastic and Water” art and short film competition. Students submitted pieces of art to educate the community of the danger of plastic contamination to the water sources.
“It’s very rewarding because we’ve been able to connect with water industry professionals and make some impact,” Tianshi said. “We were invited to speak at many events including the City of Cupertino World Water Day, the California Water Environmental Federation meeting, Torrey Pines Docent Society, and the Solana Beach Eco Rotary Club. Emily was a panelist in an event hosted by the California Water Environmental Association and spoke alongside three professionals featured in a water documentary, Brave Blue World.”
The siblings were also featured on National Geographic in a documentary called Join the Millions. Tianshi describes that as a “really cool experience” and they were grateful for the opportunity.
Tianshi is now a sophomore in high school and Emily is a freshman at Stanford University. With Emily in college, Tianshi has taken on more responsibilities at Clearwater Innovation. “My role in Clearwater Innovation is to host all our monthly meetings and to give all our members guidance on what they need to do, like running social media and writing blog posts,” he says.
Between school, his non-profit, and everything else, Tianshi has a busy schedule. Time management has been difficult but he’s working on a new approach.
“I try to split my time into ‘productive mode’ where I’m only doing productive stuff and then ‘relaxation mode’ where I’m only doing relaxing stuff,” he says. “That way I’m not trying to multitask between doing something relaxing while I’m writing school assignments. It doesn’t work that way, I just work much slower.”
Advice to Students
When asked for a piece of advice to any students who may want to run an organization like his, Tianshi says start with pursuing something you’re very passionate about. He also advises asking for help.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals and others for help because environmental issues impact everyone, working together can be much more productive.”
Inventing a cutting-edge device is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Tianshi’s many talents. In his free time he likes to write and has published five sci-fi fantasy novels on Amazon. His most recent book, Eventide, was published in July 2021.
“I’m trying to find time to write my 6th book this year, but I’m very short on time,” he says.
Tianshi also loves to compose and improvise classical music. “Playing piano is just so great and Chopin is my favorite classical composer, just gotta put that out there.”
The Future of Clearwater Innovation
The future is full of possibilities for Clearwater Innovation, and the team has many goals to achieve that require a lot of resources. “We are inviting more students to join our organization. You can be any age to make a postive impact on the environment. You can join us now,” says Tianshi.
The team is currently planning a large World Water Day event for 2022. In the meantime, they will continue to advocate for change and inspire other individuals.
Learn more about Clearwater Innovation. Read more Rustic Spirit stories.