Student Teams Vie for Grants to Develop Creative, Sustainable Technologies
Poultry farmers must clean mud and feces from fresh eggs, but industrial egg-washers can cost tens of thousands of dollars and use large amounts of water and energy. So, students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University tried an alternative: giving the eggs a bubble bath.
Kemper Fox and his classmates designed a cheaper, more sustainable egg-washer for use on small-scale farms, and presented it on 18-19 April at the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award competition, which is organized by the Environmental Protection Agency with assistance from AAAS. The device works by using bubbles or “cavitation” to clean the surface of the eggs as they are rotated and ferried through a tank of water. Further work is needed to determine if the bubbles, along with bleach or some other agent, can also kill off dangerous bacteria commonly found on fresh eggs.
“We spent a lot of time at farmers’ markets, asking small farmers what qualities they wanted in an egg-washer,” said Fox, holding up a pearly white chicken’s egg.
Kemper’s team is one of 45 teams of college students from across the country that descended on the National Mall to showcase their creative sustainability projects for the annual competition. The P3 event is part of the EPA’s National Sustainable Design Expo, which highlights the latest sustainable technologies, programs and initiatives.
The EPA launched the competition in 2003 to promote creative problem-solving with a focus on sustainability. The winning teams will receive a grant of up to $90,000 to help bring their green technologies into practical use.
Under a huge tent on the Mall, students mingled with scientists, representatives from non-profit organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers Without Borders-USA (both co-sponsors of the Expo) and the general public. Behind colorful booths, young scientists explained their designs to interested attendees.
The students’ projects tackled a wide range of environmental issues, from energy to agriculture. Many presentations also focused on improving access to clean water in developing countries.
Alison Polton-Simon and Yi Yang from Dartmouth College helped design a hydropower system that takes energy from waterfalls and turns it into electricity using turbine technology. The electricity is funneled to generators located at “battery kiosks” in rural villages, where locals can bring in their cell phones or car batteries for recharging.
Mihia Gupta, Rachel Proske and Kristopher LaPan from Cornell University designed a water purification device based on sand filtration. Multiple layers of sand stacked on top of one another inside of PVC pipes help to purify water as it is pumped through a series of channels. The process is similar to how common household water filters work, except on a much larger scale. Unlike industrial water treatment systems, the students’ sand filtration device does not require electric power.
Each year, AAAS culls individuals from across industry and academia to judge the competition. The judging panel is composed of leaders in the fields of engineering, water science, green chemistry, agriculture and energy.
AAAS helps assign judges to each proposal, oversees the review process and develops a scoring system that the EPA uses to inform funding decisions.
“AAAS is thrilled to once again work with EPA to assist the P3 program. This competition is an exciting demonstration of how interdisciplinary teams of students can develop technologies that tackle real-world sustainability challenges,” said Mark Milutinovich, director of the Research Competitiveness Program at AAAS.
Scores from students’ written proposals and the presentations given on the National Mall are combined into a final overall score for each team. Based on these scores, the AAAS judges identify top proposals, and the EPA selects winners from within this group. The final results will be announced in the coming weeks.
Rosemarie Szostak, a patent technology and market analyst, has been judging EPA P3 proposals for the past eight years.
“Judging is enjoyable. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also an opportunity to meet students and hear new ideas. I get energized by it all,” Szostak said.