How a High-Schooler Trying to Save Water Got a Crash Course in Engineering

By on June 21st, 2019 in Design

Tags: , , , ,

 A FloEFD simulation of two high school students’ water-saving automotive heat exchanger. (Image courtesy of Tucker Sawyer.)
A FloEFD simulation of two high school students’ water-saving automotive heat exchanger. (Image courtesy of Tucker Sawyer.)

Eighteen-year-old Tucker Sawyer of Hays County, TX, had a flash of inspiration while sitting in his high school chemistry class.

Reflecting on the perennial issue of droughts in his home state, Sawyer realized that a lot of water is wasted as a by-product of combustion vehicles. If he could somehow collect and condense the water vapor released in combustion, he would be able to reclaim hundreds of millions of gallons of water per week.

“I thought, wait a minute, we’re wasting hundreds of millions of gallons of water vapor all the time when we drive. Why don’t we do anything with that? And it took off from there,” Sawyer recounted.

Sawyer’s idea was to affix a heat exchanger onto a vehicle’s exhaust system to collect the wasted water vapor. Little did he know, he was about to embark on a gruelling—but rewarding—engineering journey.

Curiosity in Chemistry

Sawyer isn’t the type of person to have an idea and leave it at that. Ever since his tenth-grade chemistry class, he’s had a curiosity for science and the drive to apply his knowledge. That year, he built a mini laboratory in his garage to put his chemistry lessons to use (on the fourth of July, for example, Sawyer and his friends made celebratory smoke bombs). Without even realizing it, Sawyer had kicked in the door to the world of engineering.

“I hadn’t really heard of engineering. I heard the title, but I didn’t know what it was,” he admitted. “Applying science is already something that I enjoyed doing, and when I took up this project it definitely opened up my eyes to what engineering really is.”

To make his heat exchanger a reality, Sawyer was about to learn one of the first lessons of engineering: having an idea is one thing, but executing it is another. He quickly realized that to have any shot at success, he would need help. He bounced his idea off his teacher and mentor Jad Jadeja, who put Sawyer in contact with a teammate: sixteen-year-old Alfredo Salazar.

While Sawyer planned to concentrate on the mechanical design of the heat exchanger, Salazar would focus on data collection and analysis. Jason Massey, the students’ auto tech teacher, also came on board to advise the students on exhaust systems and safety.


By provides a variety of news and services to the engineering discipline worldwide and publishes a popular online blog focusing on the art of making in the industrial world.