Female-led rocket team earns top prize at PSU Cleantech Challenge

Now in its 8th year, the PSU Cleantech Challenge hosted seven teams with inventions designed with the environment and sustainability in mind. But things looked a little different this year as the challenge got underway with more than 70 people gathered over Zoom to listen to the teams present and ultimately name a winner.

This year, Open Source Rocket Academy took home the top prize of $2,000 for their stand designed to allow for liquid engine system testing and a certification program to better prepare future rocket scientists.
“Our mission is to standardize hands-on aerospace education for the next generation of rocket scientists,” said ORSA team leader Jennifer Jordan, an electrical engineering and physics major who is an Electronics Prototyping Lab manager.

ORSA also received $500 for prototype development as they head to the statewide InventOR Collegiate Challenge competition in September.

Basalt Fiber, which developed a more efficient method to develop basalt fiber mats used in construction, will join ORSA at InventOR and also received $500. Basalt Fiber also took home the $500 prize for overall runner-up and the People’s Choice Award, with an additional $500 for their product development for a total of $1,500.

The Best Prototype Award and its $500 prize went to Enviro Plasma, which developed a garbage processing system to close the waste loop cycle.

The challenge is designed to provide students with an opportunity to invent solutions addressing environmental, social and economic challenges facing the region and develop a prototype of that invention. Each team participating receives $1,500 to develop their prototype and has 90 days to work on their invention as well as hone their pitch to investors.

The seven teams represented several colleges at Portland State University, including Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, School of Business and School of Architecture.

The other competitors included:

  • Eco Archi-Tech — designed screens and dividers using recycled plastic utensils
  • Enhanced Greenery — an all-in-one unit designed to grow plants more efficiently  
  • UVM — a doormat that sanitizes shoes from germs and viruses  
  • Theory Parking — an app to help drivers find parking spaces 

“Now more than ever our future scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs need to learn how to iterate and rapid prototype solutions that will impact people's lives. With the PSU Cleantech Challenge, we are providing experiential learning for any PSU student to learn the nuances of bringing an idea to life, collaborate with multidisciplinary teams and how to launch it to market,” said Juan Barraza director of student innovation at the Center for Entrepreneurship at Portland State and lead organizer of the Cleantech Challenge. “Every one of the teams that participated in this year's cleantech challenge provided solutions that can be implemented today and change people's lives and the environment around us.”

The competition was originally slated to take place at TechFest NW in April, but the event was rescheduled due to COVID-19. Students had to quickly pivot to a new schedule and figure out ways to adapt to a lack of resources while developing their prototypes remotely.