Local youth recognized for innovation

Local team places with FIRST Lego League Global Innovation Award
By: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
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The Thunderbots team, a Sacramento-based team made up of Folsom and Roseville residents, has been participating in the FIRST Lego League robotics since 2013. As a team, they inspire youth in the community to get involved with the league as well as engineering in general.

In April, FIRST Lego League announced that 20 semi-finalist teams would advance to the eighth annual FIRST Lego League Global Innovation Award. This is significant as 32,000 teams and more than 255,000 participants in 88 countries across the globe participated in the competition.

The Thunderbots was selected for their outstanding innovative solution project which demonstrated originality while having the potential to add significant value in the world. The Thunderbots invented the “UltraOrganix Filter” for the hydrodynamics season, which focused on improving the human water cycle.

The team has plans to travel to San Jose for the Global Innovation Forum from June 19 to June 21 where they will present their innovation solution along with 20 other semi-finalists from around the world.

The “UltraOrganix Filter” removes bacteria and metal contaminants from even the most turbid water using natural, low cost components in filter bags in a quick and easy to use, effective way. The filter bags contain several ingredients, each with unique properties: cilantro (Coriandrum Sativum) which removes arsenic, crushed sea shells and ramacham (Vetiveria Zizanoides) which remove lead, moringa seeds (Moringa Oleifera) which act as coagulants that fuse and destroy bacteria cells, and charcoal, which removes several chemicals, taste and odor. All of the ingredients that make the system have been individually proven to be effective for water filtration and flocculation. The innovation in their proposed method is coming up with a simple three-step process which uses a pour through filter, Solar Water Disinfection (SoDis), and the filter bags for soaking, and combining the right mix of ingredients in the right proportions to create an effective combination. Filter bags can be created by villagers with minimal effort and cost and are reusable. By removing detrimental pathogens and contaminants including lead from water, it can prevent the spread of disease caused by people not having access to clean water.

When asked how the team feels to have placed this high, they were very excited.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Ramraj Thanapandian, who has a daughter on the team. “We can’t even describe how big of a dream it is to be in the top 20. Realizing they are the top 20 in 88 countries is pretty amazing!”

The FIRST Lego League Global Innovation Award teams must consider possible barriers to implementation, document the evaluation of their invention and validate their design with professionals working in the relevant fields.
The Thunderbots chose this problem as there are more than 323 million people worldwide that rely on polluted water sources like rivers and wells and can’t afford other water purification methods that need power and specialized equipment. They have filed a provisional patent for their idea and are piloting their filter bags in a village in South India.

“What the Thunderbots is doing is they see many schools and communities don’t have this program, so they are working with the State Legislature, Kevin Kiley, to see if they can make it a requirement that every school have a program like this,” Thanapandian said. “They think they have a good chance at it. The program isn’t just math and science, but communication and teamwork too.”

For more information on the Thunderbots, go to