The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Senior Works in Gates-Funded Toilet Project

The rumbling of machinery fills senior Kieran Stolorz’s head as he intently studies the dozens of equations and variables laid out on detailed blueprints and diagrams. Going back and forth from formulas to lab work, Kieran collaborates with a team of Stanford University professors and students in working towards building a functioning model of the “Eco-Toilet.”

This past summer, Kieran worked with a team at Stanford, participating in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Fair.” Kieran was granted the opportunity to become involved in the project by a college friend of his father, Brian Von Herzen. Von Herzen, who happened to be the coordinator for Stanford’s project in the fair, was over at Kieran’s house one night for dinner encouraging Kieran to participate over the summer.

Kieran viewed the project as a great opportunity to exercise his passion and take on his first high-level engineering project.

“It’s fascinating just from an engineering standpoint, but even more intriguing is its application and helpfulness,” Kieran said. “It was a good opportunity to learn [and] to immerse myself with the smartest people in the world, and be in a room with them four hours a day.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ involvement greatly amplified the project’s appeal and importance. Gates provided the preliminary funding for all projects in the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair” and was the main financial source for the project at Stanford. When Kieran was informed that Gates would be funding the project, he was left in awe.

Story continues below advertisement

“Obviously anytime you’re associated with a man of that much influence in the world, it’s pretty cool,” Kieran said. “That’s just a cool thing to be able to say, not just for college resumes, but for yourself.”

During his work on the project, Kieran took on roles that included helping in the lab when needed and building units to demonstrate the structure of an outhouse. Kieran’s work in the project contributed to building an “Eco-Toilet,” which recycles waste as fertilizer and biochar. When he started working on the project in early June, the team at Stanford had already started the project six months earlier. However, up to that point, they had still not been able to devise a fully-functioning model of their structure.

The main accomplishment that Kieran and the team made this summer was getting the structure to function properly and consistently. The project initially had functioning faults, which included improper seals for burning gas and maintaining appropriate temperatures. By the end of the summer, Kieran and the team were able to patch up all the problems and complete a functioning model.

“I wasn’t super optimistic that it would be completely functioning, just by seeing where it was when I started,” Kieran said. “But it was pretty impressive what we we were able to do in two months, and actually get the thing running. That was really the main breakthrough.”

Ultimately, Kieran and the Stanford team’s model did not receive the award and promotional funding from Gates at the “Reinvent the Toilet Fair.” However, the project certainly exceeded expectations and provided great optimism for the future. Kieran intends to follow up on the project and further improve the model. The project is scheduled to be implemented and tried out in Nairobi, Kenya.

“There is obviously always room to improve technology,” Kieran said. “An analogy is computers. Getting smaller but faster more efficient transistors. [Toilets] can get smaller, better, more efficient as technology evolves.”

Kieran’s goal of becoming an engineer was established with his fascination in the procedures he learned and applied. However, the project served as more than just an engineering experience; Kieran was intrigued by the benefits that an “Eco-Toilet” would provide to the 2.6 billion people worldwide without proper sanitary waste disposal. The project allowed Kieran to experience a side of engineering he had yet to consider: the application of such technologies to help those in need.

“Working for a cause greater than making video games is also interesting,” Kieran said. “Maybe I don’t want to just sit by a computer typing up code for like a search engine. I’d rather work for an actual meaning other than to make money.”

Although Kieran doesn’t know whether he will be typing up code or providing “Eco-Toilets” to people in Kenya 10 years from now, he has rooted his passion in the field of engineering. With many years of problem-solving, discovery and innovation to come, Kieran has already taken a jump start into his future.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Talon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *