Annoying those who bathe too long cuts shower waste

A teen invents a water monitor to help save a precious resource


Long showers can waste a lot of water. A teen has developed a system that irritates you until you get out. 

Jaysin Trevino, Flickr/ (CC BY 2.0)

SAN JOSE, Calif.— Many people love a good, long shower. Natasha Chugh, 14, is one of them. This freshman at Jasper High School in Plano, Texas, likes to take 30-minute showers. Then she found out how much water she was using. Suddenly, she realized she needed to do something to stop herself — and everyone else — from wasting so much. Her solution is a new system that monitors shower length. And people who don’t turn off the tap after a reasonable time will face irritating consequences.

Natasha Chugh describes her project to visitors at the Broadcom MASTERS public day. B. Brookshire/SSP

The teen presented data from her eighth grade science fair project at a competition here called Broadcom MASTERS (for Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars). This annual program was created by the Society for Science & the Public. It’s sponsored by Broadcom, a company that builds devices to help computers connect to the Internet. The competition brings together students with winning middle-school projects from across the United States. Finalists share their work with each other and the public here on October 3.

“My parents have always pestered me to take shorter showers,” Natasha says. “I wanted to show them that it’s not that important.” To prove her argument, the teen did some research on the Internet. To her surprise, she learned showers waste far more water than she had thought. “My parents were right,” she recalls, “and I realized why fresh water is a major deal.”

That prompted the young researcher to create a system to monitor a shower’s use of water. At its heart is a sensor that detects water flowing through it. She hooked this up to a mini-computer. This measured water flowing past the sensor. To make sure her tests didn’t waste water, she hooked the system up to a large bucket in her bathtub, which recycled the water over and over.

Once she calculated the water flow, Natasha wrote software for her computer. As the water flows, a computer can now track how much is being used. It sends a recording of Natasha’s voice through a speaker, when the shower starts, reminding you not to waste water. Then, follow-up reminders begin to periodically inform a bather of how much water he or she has used.

Once 37 liters (10 gallons) of water have been used, the reminders start informing bathers of the current water use. As the shower lengthens, the reminders get more frequent. “The whole thing would take 15 minutes approximately,” Natasha says. “At 70 or more gallons [264 liters] it keeps repeating ‘please STOP.’ If you’re in the shower you’re going to get annoyed…so you’ll end your shower,” she says. And that’s intentional. The message definitely irritated her parents. The teen hopes these warnings prompt other bathers to limit water waste.

Natasha hopes to patent her system. She calculated that if her system prompted everyone to cut their showers down as much as she did, they could save 40 gallons per shower. Only 2.5 percent of the water on Earth is freshwater, and the teen says knowing that should be a powerful motivation to shorten your tub time. It’s certainly changed Natasha’s habits. She’s gotten her showers down now to 10 minutes.

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Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

code    (in computing) To use special language to write or revise a program that makes a computer do something.

coding    A slang term for developing computer programming — or software — that performs a particular, desired computational task.

computer program  A set of instructions that a computer uses to perform some analysis or computation. The writing of these instructions is known as computer programming.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.