Chromium deep-sixed

When Clark Magnet High School student Saro Meguerdijian learned last spring about the presence of hexavalent chromium in local groundwater, he began mentally working through a solution.

Hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing carcinogen also known as chromium 6, cannot be removed from water with a traditional filter.

"I realized that while standard filtration might fail to remove miniscule hexavalent chromium ions, a negatively charged surface, which would be sticky to positive ions, could remove hexavalent chromium ions," Saro said.

After months of research and experimentation, Saro proved his thesis correct, successfully decreasing the concentration of hexavalanet chromium in a beaker filled with artificially contaminated water via electrochemistry. And the 16-year-old senior's work was rewarded last month when he was named a regional semifinalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

"I think it validates our program and the kind of high-level, authentic learning that goes on," Clark Principal Douglas Dall said of the award.

Saro conducted much of his research on his own, reading books and peer review articles on the subject. He also reached out to Leighton Fong, an engineer with Glendale Water & Power, who brought him up to speed on the city's efforts to strip chromium 6 from local water wells.

And after clearing his family's dinner table, Saro set out to test his hypothesis. He positioned aluminum foil in a glass beaker and filled it with artificially contaminated water. Saro placed a carpenter's pencil lead in the water, held in place by a homemade device.

He then ran an electric current through the lead, which in turn reacted with the foil transmitting three electrons to the hexavalent chromium, reducing it from chromium 6 to a less potent chromium 3.

"It worked," Saro said.

Next week, Saro will submit his carcinogen experiment as his senior project, a culminating research project required of all Clark Magnet seniors. In the spring, it will be presented along with the research projects of his classmates at a public forum at the La Crescenta campus.

Saro has distinguished himself as an exemplary student throughout his high school career. Last year, he took seven advanced placement exams, earning a 5, the highest score possible, on all of them.

"I enjoy it," Saro said. "It is very fun to work. It is edifying."

The Siemens recognition was all the more extraordinary because he was competing against more than 2,000 students, some of them from private schools working with professional-grade equipment, said chemistry teacher and mentor Loussik Kassakhian.

"He has this intuition," Kassakhian said."His research is very strong, and in my opinion he is going to contribute a lot to our society."

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