Age: 16San Diego, CA
Project Title: Biomimicking Torrey Pine Needles: Atmospheric Moisture Harvesting Device Through Alternating Hydrophilic and Hydrophobic Micro-Patterns
By 2025 two-thirds of people could be living with freshwater scarcity. Harvesting atmospheric moisture is an innovative method to alleviate this crisis. Torrey Pine tree needles are well known for their atmospheric moisture harvesting abilities. Emily’s study characterized Torrey Pine needles’ surface properties and structures that might benefit moisture harvesting and observed how the needle surfaces interact with water. She conducted controlled harvesting tests and a theoretical analysis to determine whether the properties and structures identified actually contribute to moisture harvesting. Emily fabricated a material and engineered a passive device biomimicking those unique features.
Emily Tianshi is a rising senior at The Cambridge School from San Diego, California. She is a tinkerer, thinker, and inventor inspired by the natural world and devoted to creating social impact. For the last four years, she has researched a possible method to overcome water scarcity by employing plant science, environmental engineering, and material science. Emily is humbled to be named a 2020 Davidson Fellow and is honored to join a group of students she has looked up to for several years. She is extraordinarily grateful to the Davidson Institute for their dedication to cultivating young scholars.
According to World Vision, over 844 million people around the world lack access to clean water, which is over one in ten people. Emily grew up several miles from Torrey Pines State Park and on nature hikes learned about Torrey Pines trees’ incredible moisture harvesting abilities. Because there was little research explaining the mechanisms behind it, she started her project four years ago in her kitchen lab. Her study is focused on learning Torrey Pine tree needles’ surface structures and properties at a microscopic level, identifying the characteristics that contribute to efficient harvesting, and biomimicking them into a moisture harvesting material. She discovered a unique alternating hydrophilic and hydrophobic micro-pattern on the tree that improves that harvesting rate by almost three times. Her ultimate goal is to develop a passive moisture harvesting device to help drought-stricken but foggy areas, such as Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Numidia.
Throughout the process, the biggest challenge Emily encountered as a young researcher was the lack of access to testing tools and mentorship. At that time, she had no access to a lab or connections with professors. She built a humidity chamber in her garage, bought a $20 microscope from Amazon, and put her home printer to work. These supplies ended up being quite functional and allowed her to conduct a variety of experiments that generated some surprising results. Torrey Pines Docent Society invited Emily to present at their professional event, where she met her mentor, Dr. Pao Chau, who has offered her several years of guidance while being an active park ranger. Emily is very grateful for the support and opportunities she has received throughout her journey, including working with Dr. Michael Brady. When she presented for the third time at Torrey Pines Docent Society last May, Emily met Dr. Dimitri Deheyn, who invited her to intern at his lab over the summer.
Overall, there are massive amounts of moisture in the air, a reserve waiting to be tapped. For instance, capturing a low percentage of the moisture in Chile could be sufficient to meet demands of its driest areas. Coastal Peru faces a severe drought but is foggy a significant portion of the year. Compared to the latest moisture harvesting technologies, Emily’s invention is meaningful because it is passive. Most existing methods require an energy source and can be expensive. Emily’s research also offers breakthroughs in the field of plant science. She confirmed that the needle surface performs foliar water uptake. To understand the moisture harvesting process, Emily developed a video image analysis, an out-of-the-box testing method that can be utilized for investigating other plants.
In addition to science, Emily has a deep appreciation for the humanities. Her Classical Christian school offers a rigorous core curriculum based on the traditional Greek and Roman education system. She has taken logic, rhetoric, Latin, and seminary-level theology courses for five years. Her schooling background has given her deep insight into many contemporary political issues, causing her to realize that scientific truth can be used for good only with careful guidelines. Emily aspires to be an ethics-conscious inventor who sees the beauty--not just the numbers--in nature’s truth and recognizes its value for good.
Emily is also a 2019 Intel ISEF 2nd place winner, 2019 and 2020 National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium 1st and 3rd place awardee, 2020 National Stockholm Junior Water Prize Runner-Up, and the winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award at the 2017 Broadcom MASTERS. Passionate about water conservation and environmental sustainability, Emily and her brother launched an outreach program, Clearwater Innovation (clearwaterinnovation.org), an initiative that generates awareness of the global water crisis and encourages children to utilize their creativity to tackle the problem. Emily serves as the President of the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair Student Leadership Board. For the last six years, Emily has enjoyed competing in FIRST Robotics with her team. Emily was a founding member and captain of her FIRST Tech Challenge team, “The Clueless,” which was ranked as 24th in the world and recorded three of the ten highest Hall of Fame scores in 2020. She started a non-profit, We Impact (weimpactcommunity.com), which offers STEM educational events that empower students to make a positive impact on their communities through technology. We Impact’s YouTube channel has acquired over 100,000 views from 44 countries. Outside of STEM, Emily competes on the Public Forum National Circuit, where she earned a bid to the Tournament of Champions. She stays active as a varsity golf and basketball player. A devotee of Sergei Rachmaninoff, she was grateful to play his Moments Musicaux #4, her favorite piano solo, at Carnegie Hall. Having studied Latin since the 7th grade, she is a four-year medalist in the National Latin Exam. She can create over a dozen different braids and studies the art of coiffures in her free time. Nicknamed “Emillama” because of her passion for the furry herd animal, she owns a myriad of stuffed llamas, llama t-shirts, llama mugs, and etc.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to be involved in scientific research, policy making, and/or entrepreneurship.
If you could have dinner with the five most interesting people in the world, living or dead, who would they be?
George Washington, Christopher Nolan, Stephen Hawking, Jesus, Aristotle
In the News
SAN DIEGO TEENS RECEIVE NATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS FOR UNMATCHED ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENTS
Jessie Gan and Emily Tianshi each to be awarded $25,000 as 2020 Davidson Fellow Scholarship Winners
San Diego – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2020 scholarship winners. Among the honorees are Jessie Gan, 16, and Emily Tianshi, 16, both of San Diego. Only 20 students across the country are recognized as scholarship winners each year.
“I am humbled to be named a 2020 Davidson Fellow and am honored to join a group of students I have looked up to for several years,” said Emily Tianshi, a rising senior at The Cambridge School in San Diego. “I am extraordinarily grateful to the Davidson Institute for their dedication to cultivating young scholars.”
Tianshi, inspired by the natural world and devoted to creating social impact, investigated the incredible moisture harvesting abilities Torrey pine tree needles. Using controlled harvesting tests and theoretical analysis, Tianshi fabricated a material and engineered a passive device biomimicking the unique features of the Torrey pine to harvest atmospheric moisture, a potential solution to fresh-water scarcity.
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The following disclosure is provided pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 598.1305:The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is a Nevada non-profit corporation which is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt private operating foundation. We are dedicated to supporting the intellectual and social development of profoundly gifted students age 18 and under through a variety of programs. Contributions are tax deductible.
Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests. Read more about this population in this article.