Portland Teens Pitch Fresh Water Solutions
Author: Julie Rutherford, Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science
Posted: April 18, 2016

With widespread drought and contaminated drinking water dominating the headlines, eight Portland-area high school students were invited to with develop new technologies to save humanity. What they came up with was nothing short of inspiring.

The Portland State University (PSU) High School Innovation Challenge is an annual competition organized by the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science that pairs high school teams with PSU students studying engineering, computer science or pre-health. Mentors meet with their teams for three months during which time they work together to identify a problem, conduct fieldwork, and devise a new approach to address a problem of their own choosing.

Themes for the Challenge are intentionally broad.  This allows students to follow their own curiosity and interests. The 2016 theme “[Re]Fresh Our H2O” elicited a variety of interpretations that led young inventors to build technologies that monitor, purify, and conserve the water we bring into our homes and more responsibly irrigate our land. With the freedom to explore, one team pitched a device to increase aquatic safety in recreational waterways.

All eight teams converged on Saturday April 9, to present their ideas of a panel of judges and their peers. First Place and Honorable Mention were awarded to teams in six categories. A seventh award, “Audience Favorite“ was determined by ballot.

Team presentations, many of which featured functional prototypes, were as follows:

Madison – “A Genetic Approach to Designing a Novel Biological Sensor to Monitor Water Contamination,” demonstrates how bacteria, such as a harmless strain of E.coli, can be genetically modified to phosphoresce in the presence of sewage, and alert authorities to a potential health crisis in real time. *Winner of the “Most Creative Honorable Mention,” “Most Innovative Tech,” and “Audience Favorite awards.

Benson – “Residential Greywater Recycling System” reimagines plumbing in a residential home to recirculate water from showers, sinks and dishwashers to the toilet. *Winner of the “Best Team Venture,” and “Best Presented Honorable Mention” awards.

Metropolitan Learning Center – “Isolated Water Circulation and Filtration System” contains and filters household greywater to optimize water use in areas affected by severe drought. *Winner of the “Best Team Venture Honorable Mention.”

Wilson – “Aqua Band” proposes a wearable device that monitors blood-oxygen levels to alert help when a person is in danger of drowning. *Winner of the “Strongest Concept,” and “Greatest Human Impact” awards.

Portland Youth Builders – “LARC: Local Agricultural Resource Conservation” is a solution to reducing water waste in agriculture. *Winner of the “Strongest Concept Honorable Mention.”

Franklin– “puddl: Gamifying Water Conservation” changes consumer behavior by turning water conservation into a game. *Winner of the “Most Creative” award.

Lincoln – “Small Scale Water Filtration Project” is a one-stop shot to test and analyze water for a multitude of contaminates.

De La Salle – “De La Salle Sensor” combines a flowmeter with an app that tracks water usage at every faucet, shower, toilet and other household water lines providing a granular view of how water is being used (and often wasted). *Winner of the “Best Presented,” Greatest Human Impact,” and “Most Innovative Tech Honorable Mention” awards.

Though the three-month program concluded with the awards ceremony at the end of the final event, high school students who participate in the PSU High School Innovation Challenge are each offered a one-time, $1,000 scholarship to pursue a degree in engineering or computer science at Portland State University.

A complete archive of projects and video of the 2016 PSU High School Innovation Challenge presentations can be found at the Portland State Library’s PDXScholar academic repository.