Lexington student wins ground water monitoring technology award

RAM’s invention is a computer model that uses machine learning to interpret data collected by NASA’s Grace satellite to predict groundwater levels within a few meters of the actual level. Even if groundwater control devices are already in place, they can be expensive to install.

The RAM system can provide farmers, well owners, and local authorities with a cost-effective means of groundwater management. According to Ram, this model is the first to use a statistical approach over a large region to predict changes in groundwater.

A “Continuous Groundwater Monitoring” system created with support from the Henry Ford Museums Innovation Convention Program, based in Dearborn, Mich., was honored at the second annual Innovation Convention Globals competition presented by Pratt & Whitney.

The motivation behind the innovation is personal to Ram.

“My grandparents live in India, and their town experienced a severe drought,” Ram said in an interview. “It was due to a lack of leadership. And I wanted to do research on solutions that can be used to manage water resources properly.”

Her family’s profound impact on climate change fueled her desire to invent something that could make a difference.

“I’ve always been passionate about climate change,” says Ram. “It’s what got me here. I always try to come up with ideas in this context of sustainability and environment.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 115 million people—one-third of the U.S. population—depend on groundwater for drinking water. About 22 percent of the groundwater sources sampled by the USGS contained contaminants, the study found. Frequent droughts are also a concern. Global warming and overcrowding can deplete groundwater and reduce the supply of drinking water. Proper monitoring of groundwater will help local authorities to reduce these problems.

Continuous groundwater monitoring is not Ram’s first innovation. She has previously taken on projects involving groundwater and pollution. But her latest creation may be the most celebrated.

A natural spring fed by the Ogallala Aquifer fills a reservoir that supplies water to wildlife at the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge outside Muleshoe, Texas. Due to irrigation and drought, the reservoir has become very dry.Mark Rogers/Associated Press

According to John Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, having an accurate estimate of groundwater can help local officials make better decisions about how to use the resource.

“How do you allocate water in times of water stress?” Macomber said. “It’s a very difficult process, but it’s further limited by not having very good information about what’s going on underground. So access to that information, if it works, adds to the toolkit for governments and businesses and citizens.

With the help of the Innovation Convention program, Ram recently filed a patent for her invention. The 18-year-old is already thinking of ways to improve his technology and expand his horizons. Currently, the computer model is based on data only for the United States. But Ram wants the technology to be available worldwide.

“I’m definitely working on that,” Ram said. “I’m looking to collect some data sets and train a global model soon. It’s one of my dreams.”

Collin Robisheaux can be reached at collin.robisheaux@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter. @ColRobisheaux.

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