Eighteen-year-old postmillennial, Michal Ruprecht, is a modern-day Renaissance man. Besides his interests in journalism and aspirations to be a doctor, this just-graduated high schooler, soon to be a freshman at the University of Michigan, is passionate about Green Chemistry research, and with his high school’s chemistry club, came up with a solution to solve Michigan’s Flint Water Crisis. In fact because of his research, he’s the first high schooler to win the 2017 American Chemical Society (ACS) Ciba Travel Award in Green Chemistry Research, and is now headed to MIT in Boston to present his research to over 20,000 scientists, including Noble Prize winners at ACS National Meeting this August.
After The Rockaway Times (RT) was contacted by former RT contributor and local resident, Patricia Hannan, about Ruprecht, we were blown away by his accomplishments and conducted the following Q&A with him. However, when you learn about Ruprecht’s humble beginnings in Far Rockaway as a son of Polish immigrant parents and a shy reluctant student, you’ll see why he is not just amazing, but a true inspiration for all youth.
RT: So first off, tell us a bit about your Rockaway roots.
Ruprecht: I was born in Far Rockaway at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital to Polish immigrant parents, who both won their U.S. green cards in a lottery. We lived in Rockaway for six years before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Admittedly, my childhood in Rockaway was tough. As a young child, I was accustomed to Polish traditions. For example, I never saw a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my house. It was hard to adjust at school in Rockaway because I was shy and scared of the other kids because well, my Polish household was so different, and I was afraid of being different. Though I considered Rockaway a concrete jungle, the ocean breeze and vibe was something that always stuck with me.
RT: How has that changed since you moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan?
Ruprecht: Ann Arbor was so different from Rockaway. The city is so diverse! There are people representing more than 140 countries living here. All of a sudden, I felt like I fit in. I got to learn about other cultures and met children my age, who also spoke different languages at home and had different cultural traditions. I learned about theirs and I got to share mine. I no longer felt isolated.
RT: So tell us about the award-winning research you did with your high school’s chemistry club about the Flint Water Crisis?
Ruprecht: In my sophomore year of high school, I took an AP Biology class, which ignited my interest in research. It was interesting to see what I learned in class that I could apply to my passion to solve societal problems through science. Then when I started taking chemistry, our class teacher introduced us to Green Chemistry, which has three goals: To reduce the population’s footprint on the environment; To reduce our cost on the environment; and To be mindful of our environment. So once the Flint Water Crisis blew up, I wanted to conduct research to come up with a solution.
RT: What was the solution, and how did you go about finding a way to solve it?
Ruprecht: Well, I joined the chemistry club, and took the initiative to amp the club up by creating a logo, advertising on social media, and recruiting students. Our club has grown more than 300 percent since I joined, and I’m proud to say that 60 percent of members are women. I contacted many professors and scientists in the Green Chemistry field to present our interest, but of course, no one would take us high schoolers seriously. We got so much rejection. How could we compare to other graduate and doctorate students with more education under their belt? However, finally, University of Detroit-Mercy’s Dr. Mark Benvenuto, believed in us, and now here we were finally in a professional chemistry lab working on what we believed was a promising solution.
RT: Which was?
Ruprecht: I thought if we could develop a way to remove harmful elements from water, that could possibly lead us in the right direction. Dr. B helped us create a ligand, which is a molecule that bonds to other molecules, and has the potential of removing harmful substances from water. Our research showed that if our ligand could pull metal ions into a nonpolar solution called monoglyme, it should be able to pull metal ions out of an aqueous solution, meaning this ligand could potentially pull metals from tainted water. And it worked!
RT: Wow! So what’s in store for you now? You’re headed to MIT to present your research in front of hundreds of scientists, but you mentioned that you are going to be a pre-med student at U-Mich?
Ruprecht: I have so many interests in research. I believe whether you are journalist, scientist or doctor or even someone working in a store, we all can contribute to solving major societal problems. I love writing, research, science, and ultimately, I really want to make a positive contribution to help others in the world, as so many have helped me. My parents came to this country and sacrificed a lot for me and my sister. When I think of my grandparents, I am honored by their legacy. My grandmother was a teacher and during WW2 when Poland was attacked by Russia, she was amongst many who were deported to Russian camps because they were educated. My grandfather had to give up his dream to become a doctor because he had polio, and instead became a biologist. But you know what I learned from them? Education is power, and I’m going to continue to pursue my love of learning.
RT: What would you like to impart to other youth facing obstacles, unsure if they can succeed?
Ruprecht: Education is the most important thing one can gift to themselves. Find your passion, forget the naysayers and the bullies. Love yourself and feed your purpose in life!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS