Hopewell Valley student named 2019 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize winner

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Sonja Michaluk (center) the 2019 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize winner.

Sonja Michaluk is student taking action to address current and future water challenges.

Her efforts and passion have resulted in Sonja being recently selected as the 2019 U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize winner.

“My first reaction was complete and utter shock. I was in disbelief. It took me a couple hours to kind of get it into my head what had happened,” she said. “I right away told all the people who helped me get here from family to mentors.”

The Stockholm Junior Water Prize is regarded as the world’s most prestigious youth award for a water-related science project that seeks to address water challenges, according to officials.

Sonja’s project centered around assessing the health of a waterway.

“I developed a new method to look at waterway health. My method looks at the biological health of the eco-system in the waterway. There actually isn’t a global standard for this the bio-assessment method,” she said. “So if you use state protocol for the state of New Jersey and compare it to California’s protocol they are not on the same level. Using this method that I have created increases the statistical power of water health data, precision and accuracy, and provides the first global standardized method that can be used world wide.”

Her method includes DNA barcoding, which came out in 2003 and allows people to extract DNA from any organism in the waterway, sequence it and figure out what it is down to species level. It matches the sequence up to preexisting data bases, according to Sonja.

“It took several years to develop this procedure,” Sonja said.

She was chosen from among representatives sent by each state and Puerto Rico and will receive a $10,000 prize and an all-expense paid trip to Stockholm, Sweden, according to district officials.

Sonja is a senior at Hopewell Valley Central High School and will be the United States representative at the international conference in Stockholm in August during World Water Week.

“I will be leaving toward the end of the month of August. I am really excited about participating in World Water Week,” she said. “I love meeting people that come from different backgrounds and cannot wait to meet the other representatives of the other countries that were chosen. I want to know how their countries deal with water issues and find out the issues they are wanting to tackle.”

World Water Week is a week-long global water conference organized and led by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

The conference features experts and representatives from governments, science sectors, research organizations, industry, and United Nations agencies.

They seek to address a wide range of the world and water sustainability issues, according to officials.

“This conference is extremely important. No new discoveries and progress are made without collaboration. I also think it is really important to have people who are teenagers because we are essentially the next generation,” Sonja said. “This conference gets the younger generation and older generations together to collaborate and address issues going forward.”

Hopewell Valley Central High School science teacher Karen Lucci said Sonja has a remarkable passion for the environment and a mindset where she can take chances to use what she has learned and expand the knowledge base.

“She has been doing this for years,” she said. “Her research in ecology is truly exceptional and, more importantly, she continues to share what she has learned so that others can develop an appreciation of nature and how we all impact the natural world around us.”

Sonja said she does not feel a lot people talk about the current and future water challenges the world faces.

“When I do a lot of research on current water world issues there are a lot of things going on that are very scary and potentially can get worse. I think people either sugar coat it or push it to the side,” she said.

While in Stockholm, Sonja will also be attending a formal dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden.