Kaden Luker

researches cost-effective ways to remove microplastics from water sources

When Kaden Luker drives past the Missouri River, it saddens him to see it brown and polluted: He thinks of how it is a primary water source for humans and how the animals that drink the water become sick.

Last year, as a junior at Jackson Senior High School, he decided to do something about it. His decision led him to conduct research to see how microplastics can be eliminated from the water supply, a project that was nominated for the Missouri State Junior Academy of Science Competition, the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, and the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

Initially, Kaden wanted to use two enzymes that cost approximately $3,000 per vial to conduct his research; when he realized that was unfeasible, he researched bacteria that cost $12 per vial and decided to test three that have properties of reaction: micrococcus luteus, lactococcus lactis and bacillus cereus.

He gathered nine jars of water from a polluted stream near his school and put each bacteria into three separate jars of the water, introducing each to different temperatures to see if it affected their biodegradation process. After waiting a month, he saw that although all of the bacteria were “fairly successful,” the micrococcus luteus performed the best.

This year, as a senior, Kaden is continuing his research by building a prototype to introduce the bacteria into polluted water sources. He plans to do this in smaller water sources such as rivers, lakes and streams.

His interest in science, he says, began in his seventh grade science class; he loves the applicability of the subject.

“This [podcast recording we recorded] took scientific effort,” Kaden says. “And our sewer systems and water drainage systems, that took a lot of scientific effort. And it just to me is how that could change the world for the better.”

In the future, Kaden plans to become a cardiothoracic surgeon or a researcher. Outside of school, he enjoys playing chess and drawing.

Kaden’s inspirations are his dog and the character of Aunt Mae from “The Amazing Spider-Man” trilogy films directed by Sam Raimi.

“My dog just provides me with a lot of happiness. She’s a lab, so she’s fairly smart, but let’s just say, what’s behind her eyes is not too much; it’s just pure love and bliss. And that’s what I enjoy about her,” Kaden says. “And what I learn from Aunt Mae … is forgiveness and that we all make mistakes, but it’s [how] we choose how to react to those mistakes that makes us who we are.”

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