Gould Academy senior Eli Shifrin on the grounds of the Bethel campus Wednesday afternoon. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

BETHEL — After Eli Shifrin discovered a need for more water monitoring stations in the state, he decided to make his own.

“As a state, we’re behind nationally,” the recent Gould Academy graduate said. “Water temperature directly relates to how much oxygen is in the water … that is the No. 1 factor that relates to fish mortality, growth rates, all that stuff.”

“More gages really means better management and more sustainable fishery practices,” he continued.

Current water monitoring stations are expensive, Shifrin said, noting that the structures can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 to build.

So, he set out to create a cheaper version.

As a sophomore, Shifrin began studying native brook trout through an independent study at Gould. Fishing in a Weld stream rife with pollution and debris inspired him to learn more.


He continued this study in his junior year with the goal of predicting climate impacts on brook trout in the Sunday River watershed. The project pushed him to learn more about data analysis, computer science and mathematical modeling.

“The big problem that I found was we really don’t know what’s going on in our own state’s waters,” he said, specifying several water quality measurements like temperature and water volume.

The model Shifrin created that year wasn’t especially accurate, he said. It was complex, and there was far less water quality data available than he had hoped.

But it led him to discover an even greater issue: Maine’s lack of water monitoring gages.

During his senior year, Shifrin developed a small remote water quality station built using PVC pipes, 3D printers, a small solar panel, micro controller and sensor. It took 9 months to build, he said, and many failed designs.

“I managed to build something that records water temperature and water level, and it gets automatically updated to a website every 15 minutes,” he said.


The cost? Just $250.

The device isn’t built to survive the winter, Shifrin said; it would need to be removed and reinstalled annually. His monitoring system is also less accurate than the permanent gages in Maine.

“Instead of being like plus or minus one-hundredth of a degree Celsius, it’s plus or minus half a degree Celsius,” he explained.

The data is accurate enough to inform for recreational use, he said, but agreed it might not be precise enough for scientific research.

Ultimately, the project led him to reach out to his state senator and researchers in New England in an effort to push the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to institute temperature-based fishing restrictions and protect cold-water fish populations.

“They said ‘no, like, come on, you’re a high school kid,'” he recounted. “‘You have a cool idea, but we want to wait and kind of find out more.'”


But director of the Gould Academy Marlon Family Innovation, Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Arts, and Science (IDEAS) Center Billy Ayotte said Shifrin’s project has gone far beyond the abilities of most high school students.

“Seeing that (development) at a high school age is pretty unique, because most of the time these things stay in the theoretical realm,” said Ayotte. “He’s put in the effort and the time and has understood the context around the problem enough to actually (deploy his device) … He’s trying to not just take on technical challenges, but (is) really trying to use some of this knowledge of this issue to influence legislation.”

“When he has an idea in his head, he follows it through to fruition,” he said. “And even now when he’s moving on, he’s already trying to set up plans to continue his passions when he’s not here and get other student to follow in the footsteps of this trail he’s blazed.”

This fall, Shifrin will continue studying environmental science at Bowdoin College. After three years of researching water monitoring and cold water fisheries, he said he’s excited to explore other environmental topics. He will also compete for Bowdoin’s Nordic ski team.

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