Water research makes waves in annual graduate student sustainability challenge

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A diverse team of judges has recognized an interdisciplinary team of graduate students as the grand prize winner of $10,000 in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) at Penn State. Abhishek Kar (chemical engineering), Yuxi Meng (energy management and policy), Rajarshi Guha (chemical engineering) and Hasin Feroz (chemical engineering), developed a solution titled “Sustainable Desalination and Water Recycling Using Chemical Micropumps in Membrane Systems.” The faculty adviser for the team was Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Darrell Velegol, distinguished professor of chemical engineering.

The Dow SISCA contest recognizes and rewards students and universities for their innovation and research of sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing social, economic and environmental problems. The program, administered by Penn State's Sustainability Institute, is designed to promote forward thinking in social and environmental responsibility, and acknowledges the energy, commitment and enthusiasm of students and their professors who support their innovations.

“This contest brings people together with various scientific and technical skills and fosters an environment of change,” said Abhishek Kar, a member of the grand prize winning team.

“The way of thinking and communicating with people from different fields is outstanding,” said Yuxi Meng, grand prize team member. “The interdisciplinary cooperation experiences in the contest are a treasure that would be difficult to gain from anywhere else.”

“The interdisciplinary cooperation experiences in the contest are a treasure that would be difficult to gain from anywhere else.”

                                     -- Yuxi Meng, grand prize team member

The grand prize winning team developed low-energy consuming technique for reverse osmosis, a current method of extracting clean water from sea and waste water.

The second place team of Dustin Betz (biology), Dan Collins (industrial engineering), Jon Gumble (horticulture), Jared Yarnall-Schane (mechanical engineering), and Mike Zaengle (architecture) was awarded $2,500 for their entry: “GreenTowers: Consumer Aquaponics Systems.” The faculty adviser for the team was Timothy Simpson, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and engineering design.

“We are thrilled to have participated in this year’s Dow SISCA Challenge and to have won second place,” said Dustin Betz, second place team member. “We plan to use our prize winnings to turn our idea into a viable business known as GreenTowers.”

“GreenTowers, our recently-organized Pennsylvania LLC, implements local protection of human health and the environment by using an inherently organic food production technique that always allows the consumer to know the exact origin of the food that they put into their bodies,” explained Betz. “Our team is designing for efficiency and conservation by hyper-localizing food production with one of the most water-conscious horticultural technologies available.”

“So many great ideas were submitted, that choosing only two to fund was difficult. We encourage all participants to continue other avenues of potential funding and/or to submit again next year. The future truly lies in ideas such as these,” said Denice Wardrop, executive director of Penn State's Sustainability Institute.

“So many great ideas were submitted, that choosing only two to fund was difficult. We encourage all participants to continue other avenues of potential funding and/or to submit again next year. The future truly lies in ideas such as these.”

                  -- Denice Wardrop, Sustainability Institute executive director

In addition to the prize money, the winning teams will have the opportunity to network with global sustainability thought leaders and peers, join a network of SISCA alumni and showcase their work with various external sustainability media.

All five finalist teams will also be offered additional venues to share their outstanding work with broader audiences in the coming months, including the Spring Graduate Research Exhibition.

Penn State will be participating in the Dow SISCA Challenge in 2014. For more information, please visit http://sustainability.psu.edu/learn/students/programs/dow-sustainability-innovation-student-challenge-award.

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Last Updated December 12, 2013