Students Solving Global Problems via Open Innovation Challenges

Published Aug-29-16

A collapsible, reusable water bottle and an innovative food packaging design are the big winners of a global open innovation contest for students.

The Global STEM Alliance, United States

The Story:

Students Solving Global Problems via Open Innovation Challenges Our world is beset by huge problems, such as bio-security, health in poor countries, land use reform and climate change. There are no easy answers, but one thing is for sure and that is that great minds working together have a much better than average chance of figuring out good and sustainable solutions.

As part of President Obama's Strategy for Innovation, the White House Office of Science and Technology has called on federal agencies to act as lightning rods to spur innovation through open innovation challenges and prize competitions.

Global STEM Alliance Challenges

One such organization to take up the baton is the Global STEM Alliance of the New York Academy of
Sciences. In 2016, it launched two new open innovation challenges (the Food Loss and Waste Challenge and the Wearables Challenge) for students aged between 13 and 19 years who are members of The Junior Academy of the Global STEM Alliance. This program is designed to engage exceptional students from diverse backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to prepare them to be the innovators of the future.

Solving the World's Problems through Science and Technology

The challenge period lasted for 60 days and involved hundreds of students from several countries working with STEM experts to figure out ways of solving key problems.

The Food Loss and Waste Challenge sought novel methods to reduce food waste, and in so doing conserve resources and provide more food for populations in need. It is a huge problem.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately one third of food produced for human consumption every year gets lost or is wasted. That's about 1.3 billion tons of food. Further, every year, rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Wearables Challenge asked teams to come up with innovative wearable technologies that could be used in low-resource areas for disaster warning or to respond to or promote hygiene and water sanitation.

Open Innovation Challenge Winners

The Food Loss and Waste Challenge was won by a team of four students from Tanzania, Morocco, China and the United States. Their idea was to reduce waste through packaging design. They proposed using polylactic acid (a biodegradable acid derived from renewable resources such as starch in corn and wheat) and rubber to design a cheap, reusable, collapsible and eco-friendly bottle. The design also incorporates an already available smart labeling system that indicates whether a bottle’s contents are safe or spoiled.

The Wearable Challenge was won by a team of four students from Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their idea was for a high-tech portable filtering bottle housed in a backpack. The bottle incorporates a stainless steel sink filter, an activated carbon pack and cotton cloth with carbon nanotubes embedded with silver nano particles. The cloth conducts a 50 nano ampere current to filter out common pathogens. There is also a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter which informs users of the purity of the filtered water.

Each student won a cash prize and travel expenses to the first annual Global STEM Alliance Summit in New York.

"The winning teams are incredible examples of the type of truly innovative ideas that young people can create when they are exposed to the right conditions: the incentive to collaborate, encouragement to think big, access to STEM experts, and the opportunity to work with peers from different backgrounds and perspectives," commented Celina Morgan-Standard, Senior Vice President of Digital Learning Solutions, The New York academy of Sciences.

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