In a rapid 24 hours, the fifth annual HWS Hackathon tasked students with identifying solutions that would improve water quality around the world. Seven participating teams rose to the challenge and tackled issues such as preventing algae blooms, cleaning beaches of micro-plastics and creating underwater data centers.
“The purpose of the Hackathon is to increase creative problem-solving and idea generation when it comes to our most challenging social issues,” says Director of the Centennial Center Amy Forbes. Students are presented with a problem, spend an afternoon meeting local and regional experts on the topic, and then create products, services and businesses that have the potential to solve, mitigate and disrupt the issue.
This year’s winning team was Earth Enthusiasts, who addressed the harmful algal blooms affecting public health, ecosystems and tourism industries around the world. Juniper Asaro-Niederlitz ’22, Jack Polentes ’21 and Katherine Vangaever ’21 focused their project on the harmful algal blooms in coastal waterways caused by chemical runoff, storm water runoff and eutrophication. Their proposal included a community supported agricultural (CSA) model for selling oysters. Using the oyster’s natural water filtration properties to prevent the accumulation of phosphorous and nitrogen, the business would raise oysters in Seneca Lake then sell them to local restaurants and individuals. The Earth Enthusiasts received $500 for their winning proposal. This year marks Polentes’ third time winning the Hackathon competition, and Asaro-Niederlitz and Vangaever’s second.
Third place finishers Jackson Danforth ’23, Avi Rajkarnikar ’23 and Joseph Tate ’23 also confronted harmful algal blooms by creating a mechanism that could filter water bodies. The team conceived of a helix fixture that promotes natural moss growth through LED lights. Their proposed idea would be powered by excess solar energy.
Experts from various backgrounds joined students at the Hackathon to share information about the people and resources currently being allocated to water pollution research and problem solving. They included Seneca Watershed Steward Ian Smith, Assistant Professor of Biology at Nazareth College Padmini Das, Manager of Ontario Country Soil and Water Conservation District Megan Webster, Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Dwight Webster Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow at Cornell University Peter McIntyre, Director of New York State Water Resources Institute Brian G. Rahm, postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell University and lecturer at Boston University Marine Program Paul Simonin, and Assistant Professor of Environment and Forest Biology at SUNY-ESF Roxanne Razavi.
This year’s keynote speaker for the event was Associate Professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology Matthew Hoffman. Hoffman is also the Director of RIT’s Master of Science program in Applied and Computational Mathematics. Hoffman’s research seeks to model the transport of microplastics in freshwater systems.