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TSN Talks with Ella Sobhani


Ella Sobhani is a 17-year-old high school student from San Diego, California. She is president and founder of the organization, Project Aquascope, which aims to provide greater accessibility to STEM education and inspire a spirit of environmental sustainability among youth, empowering them to be changemakers in their own communities. While Ella is deeply passionate about the environmental SDGs, being an Iranian-American, she is also incredibly passionate about gender inequality as well as female empowerment. She incorporates these values in any project she engages in. Visit Project Aquascope at https://www.projectaquascope.org/

Q1. When and how did you get to know the UN SDGs? Ans. Okay, so ever since I was 13, I wanted to be a part of the UN, that was my dream job when I was in middle school. Obviously, it has changed a little bit since then. So coming into high-school, I knew that I wanted to do Model United Nations. I’ve been involved with MUN all throughout high school so naturally, I got familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals pretty early on. And, even more recently, just last year around this time, I applied to be a youth advisory board member to the United Nations Association of San Diego where local youth throw events and seek to get our community involved with the SDGs. So that’s how I got involved with this.


Q2. Being the president of Project Aquascope, would you like to explain what it is? Ans. Yes, of course. So the best way to explain Project Aquascope (because it’s quite diverse) is to explain our three branches. We are dedicated to increasing the accessibility to and quality of STEM education globally. We’re dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability, particularly to the youth. Lastly, we’re all about youth entrepreneurship and inspiring and empowering youth to take action!


Q3. Project Aquascope has developed an innovative way to STEM education, through the Foldscope. So what is it and how did you guys get started with it? Ans. A part of making education more accessible is through the Foldscope. In short, it’s an origami microscope made out of cardstock paper and some plastic that takes around $1 to manufacture (it costs a little bit more to buy it). So basically it’s a microscope that you can see up to 140 times magnification with. Initially, the project focused exclusively on STEM education and the Foldscope.


Q4. The Project Aquascope also talks about microplastics, would you like to explain their effects on the environment today? Ans. The microplastics lab was something crucial for us to create because we actually wrote that lab around a year ago when professors were just getting results from the research they conducted on microplastics. So my team member Vivian was able to reach out to professors in San Diego conducting research on microplastics. It was very cool to be able to interact with the professors and discuss the research that they literally just conducted. The effects of microplastics on the environment is very unique because they are so small. They can just slide under the radar, they are literally everywhere; on this shirt, they’re in what you eat and literally everything. I think it starts to get really spooky when you actually are able to see them. I think it’s really scary and that microplastics are going to become more and more prevalent as the effects of their accumulation become more and more known.


Q5. There was a recent oil spill in Mauritius. What are your views on such human negligences which lead to such disasters? Ans. I think it’s a general lack of regard. The only good thing about these disasters is that they totally shock the public for at least a little while. I remember that around 10 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, BP caused a huge oil spill that really shocked people for a long time. But the amount of smaller, less attention-grabbing practices that go under the radar, especially in this country, astounds me. For example, cruise ships dump all of their wastes right into the middle of the ocean and no one is really fighting for a change in that area.


Q6. Donald Trump pulled out the US from the Paris Agreement. What do you have to say about this? Ans. I don’t want to get political, but I disapprove with most of what Donald Trump has done for my country. The political landscape, in the USA at least, I think was built on industrialisation. So personally, I am an advocate of systems like the Green New Deal; we don’t have much time left to change the course of how things are going to go, so Donald Trump in office is the last thing we need and I think that there have just been some strides in the complete opposite direction of where we need to be going, especially in terms of climate change.


Q7. How do you see the future of Climate Action on a global level? Ans. Honestly, I am so uncertain about this all. Because on one hand, it’s like in the last couple of years, many strikes and campaigns have been getting global attention but on the flip side, I think that major countries are contributing a lot to greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, etc. And leadership in the USA, as of now, doesn’t seem to prioritize climate action. Like, Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement! It’s obvious that politics have a big role to play in the future of climate action, so ask me this question again after November!


Q8. According to you, which global movement towards Environmental Sustainability has been the most influential in bringing a change? Ans. I have to say The Sunrise Movement. I think that the sort of energy surrounding them is so powerful because it is youth-led! Two words I would use to describe the Sunrise Movement are active and woke!


Q9. The name of your project, Project Aquascope is very interesting. What was the idea behind this name? Ans. It’s not that fancy but basically I was researching aquaponics for lab ideas and I was obsessed with them for a while because they are super cool sustainable systems that inspired me. Also, Foldscopes are integral to our project too! So one of my team members just came up and said “why not Aquascope?” and it kind of just stuck!! I just really liked it. I thought it had a nice ring to it and we came up with a nice logo to go along with it so it all kind of fit together!

SDG This or That

  1. Global Peace or Reduced Inequalities -Global Peace

  2. Quality Education or Good Health and Well-Being -Quality Education

  3. Innovation and Infrastructure or Sustainable Cities -Innovation and Infrastructure

  4. Clean Energy or Clean Water – Clean Energy


Ella’s Favourites

  1. Climate Activist -Isra Hirsi

  2. Part of work as the President of Project Aquascope -Outreaching and meeting new people!

  3. Cuisine – Persian food (Khoresht Baamiyeh, translates to okra stew)

  4. Place to Visit -Big Sur

  5. Book -A Thousand Splendid Suns

  6. Author -Khalid Hosseini

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