Scientific Setbacks: Inspiration to Action

Header Image

Scientific Setbacks: Inspiration to Action

The following is the award-winning essay written by eighth-grader Esther Schonberger. It received second place in the 2024 Maurice R. Hilleman Essay Contest.

By Esther Schonberger ’25

Just as Dr. Hilleman decided to spend his life working to solve a problem he saw around him, if I were given the opportunity to take on any scientific issue, I would take on a mission to share a privilege that I access every day – potable drinking water. According to the United Nations, approximately 3.5 million people die each year from complications caused from drinking untreated water, and more than half of those deaths are children. Millions of people around the world spend the majority of their lives walking to, fetching, or worrying about water. Many children living in scorching or tropical regions such as Northern Africa and India, can spend up to eight hours of their day finding and carrying water to supply their families. Even if these children do manage to find water from the unpredictable places they rely on to stay alive, the chances of that water being clean are extremely rare.

Finding ways to clean that drinking water is extremely hard, as boiling water requires energy and will only reduce the limited amount these people already have. Other purification methods like the ability to filter water require access to adequate filtration - a privilege that not many in the world can afford. This is mainly because of high expenses and not readily available filtration systems. Because the dirty water is too often consumed, millions of people are left high and dry, because the only water they have could be contaminated with hundreds of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, diphtheria, giardia, and much more, that could result in sickness and then death. The sad reality is that this is also getting worse. Because of climate change and increases in populations around the world, more and more people will soon lose their ability to get clean water and thus impact their entire lives. This is a serious problem that is not just affecting other countries, but has also come up in recent years in the United States, which is considered a well-developed country. Last summer, many cities in the U.S. advised their residents to boil water before drinking it for many reasons like sewage leakage, and others had to warn against lead poisoning which required specialized filtration to address. This has happened in cities such as New York, NY; Jackson, MS; Flint, MI; Baltimore, MA; and so many more. Cases of people not being able to get potable water are happening everywhere.

The clean water crisis caught my eye when we learned about it in school, because of where I have grown up. I live about a five-minute drive, or ten-minute walk, from Maltby Lakes, the freshwater reserve that used to supply drinking water for the majority of the city of New Haven, Connecticut. Living in close proximity to so much clean, freshwater never seemed like a big deal to me, until I became aware of all of the people for whom getting water, let alone clean drinking water, is such a tremendous feat. I have the privilege of never worrying about water, but that is not the case for so many individuals around the world. For many people, the struggle to access clean drinking water can affect their ability to pursue their education, help their family, and live healthy lives. Knowing that people struggle with this when I live so close to what appears to be all of the water in the world is powerful.

When Dr. Hilleman observed a catastrophe spiraling downhill around him, that of children dying from illnesses, he did something about it. It is inspiring, and quite frankly amazing, that Dr. Hilleman dedicated his life to improving the world. Just as I assume Dr. Hilleman felt about his world, I yearn to do something about this crisis facing mine. His impact changed the world, and I want to change the world too. Solving this huge crisis would take years of research, experimenting, and thinking, just as any problem would, but if given the chance I would want to do that tremendous amount of work on this problem, one I am passionate and deeply engaged in. If I could make as big of an impact on the world as Dr. Hilleman’s, I would work on solving the problem of clean drinking water for all.

Get Social!

    Since 1916, The Foote School has provided child-centered education that nurtures creativity, excellence and joy in learning.