This 12-year-old created a device that monitors and protects the LA river from pollution

12-year-old Jasper Lutyens believes that children can change the world! Jasper is an environmental engineer and activist who is passionate about saving the environment, starting with the Los Angeles River. Jasper created a device that monitors and protects the Los Angeles River from pollution, while inspiring others to help keep the river clean. 

Jasper began work on his device, which is called the river monitor beacon, when he was just 9 years old. “I was in 3rd grade and I saw how polluted the river was. We were doing this science project on the wildlife in the LA river with FOLAR,” Jasper tells In The Know. “It’s a non-profit dedicated to the cleanup and preservation of the river. And so I thought I needed to do something about [the pollution].”

While information about Los Angeles River pollution is available online, Jasper wanted to make a statement that nobody could ignore. With help from his dad, he began designing a beacon that would stand prominently beside the Los Angeles River and display pollution data for everyone to see. “So the idea behind the monitor is we want to display that data in public easier,” says Jasper. “So the river monitor itself displays the amount of bacterial pollution in the water, specifically E. coli, which makes up a lot of the bacteria present in the water.”

After designing a prototype of his river monitor beacon, Jasper teamed up with FOLAR. “FOLAR arranged a meeting with LA sanitation, specifically with the deputy director, and he really liked the idea and he gave us some funding and some engineers,” Jasper recalls. “We met with the engineers and they showed us what they were thinking of and where they wanted to put it. Then, they were installed in 2020.”

The river monitor beacon flashes red, yellow, or green depending on the river’s level of pollution on any given day. “So green [means] you can go in, but still rules apply. You don’t swim in it, you don’t drink from it, you don’t fish in it, but you can kayak, you can canoe,” Jasper explains. “Yellow means you should take caution. It’s like, advised not to go in, but you still can go in. And red is completely closed.”

Jasper hopes that the river monitor beacon inspires others to volunteer their time and energy to clean up the Los Angeles River. “When they read the sign and see that the monitor is red, which it a lot of the time is, they’ll probably realize, ‘Man, our river is polluted, a lot,’ and hopefully they’ll try to pitch in at least a little to the cause of cleaning up our river,” Jasper explains. “It just puts the idea in their mind and they can take it from there.”

Jasper also hopes that his young age will inspire adults to take action. “Doing this project, I guess I can just show them that, ‘Hey a 9-year-old did this, you can probably do this too. Like, get off the couch,’” Jasper says. “Older people can vote. Older people have all of these rights that we as children don’t really have, and they have the right to change things.”

Of course, Jasper also believes that kids have the power to change things! “Older people aren’t all of it. Younger people can still help. They can organize themselves, they can protest, they can persuade their parents to vote on things that they support,” Jasper explains. “I really think that young people should be more involved in climate action because it’s our future to protect.”

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