Worried about dust and air pollution? A Kennewick teen created this to help

He is only a sophomore at Kennewick High, but he is an accomplished inventor

Kennewick High School’s Nikhil Devanathan talks about an air quality sensor he created along with a phone app to read the data.
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Kennewick High School’s Nikhil Devanathan talks about an air quality sensor he created along with a phone app to read the data.

Nikhil Devanathan’stwo hometowns inspired his award-winning science project.

The 16-year-oldlives in Kennewick, where dust is a pretty common thing. And he’s originally from Chennai, India, where air pollution is a major concern.

So he created a portable air quality sensor, even building a phone app to read the data.

And it won a grand prize at the recent Mid-Columbia Regional Science and Engineering Fair.

Christopher Kang of Hanford High School in Richland also earned a grand prize for his project.

Both teens now are headed to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh next month, along with Afrah Aftab from Hanford High and Zoe Gotthold from Richland High, who’ll be observers.

Christopher Kang Richland School District

Nikhil said he’s excited. As the son of two scientists, Ram Devanathan and Subha Narayanan, his interests naturally leaned in that direction.

But in seventh grade, he entered his first science fair — his project had to do withmicrobial fuel cells — and that’s when things clicked.

“That really sucked me in. It was a really fun and interesting thing to do,” he told the Herald.

The sophomore at Kennewick High started working on his air sensor last summer.

He researched, designed and built prototypes, and also created the app. It took more than 500 hours, he said.

He reached out to experts for help and advice, including David Atkinson at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Ron Williams with the Environmental Protection Agency.

His finished product is small, lightweight and easy to use.


And the information it provides is powerful, said Nikhil, noting that air pollution kills millions worldwide each year, including about 200,000 in the U.S.

At Kennewick High, Nikhil is part of the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program. Ashley Williams, program coordinator, said he’s an outstanding student.

“We’re blessed to have him here. He’s not only a bright student, but he’s also respectful, kind and nice — all the things that come with being a well-rounded kid,” she said.

When he’s not studying or working on science projects, Nikhil is having fun with friends in his school’s robotics, technology and computers club. He’s also a Boy Scout.

He’s thinking about a career as a research scientist in technology and robotics — although not for a while. He still has more schooling and more science fairs.

“It’s taken a lot of time, but it definitely pays off in the end,” he said of working on science fair projects. “It’s opened a lot of doors for me.”

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald