First National Undergraduate Water Technologies Design Competition Held at Rice University

Achievement date: 

The NSF-funded Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) Systems held its First Annual National Undergraduate Water Technologies Design Competition on April 15th, 2016, at the Rice University Biosciences Collaborative Building in Houston, TX. The unique event brings together students and stakeholders who are working to solve pressing global water challenges.


The Water Technologies Design Competition fosters leadership and communication skills among students while establishing a national network of scientists committed to solving critical challenges associated with water. The event also serves as a forum for showcasing emerging research and solutions-based applications to educational institutions, industry, and diverse stakeholders throughout the US, further facilitating the important task of public awareness.


 In its first installment, the competition had robust participation. Eighteen student teams from thirteen universities across the US submitted designs. Eight judges were also recruited from industry, an NGO, and academia to help oversee the competition. They included: Sanjay Bhatnagar (WaterHealth International), Laura Capper (CAP Resources), Michael Clark (Interflote-USA), Dr. Fermín Reygadas (Fundación Cántaro Azul), Dr. Debora Rodrigues (University of Houston), Dr. Shane Walker (University of Texas at El Paso - UTEP), Sarah Young (Living Water International), and Dr. Katherine Zodrow (Rice University).

After entries were submitted, eight finalist teams were then selected to attend the day-long event at Rice, where the judges evaluated their presentations based on how clearly they articulated the water challenge that their technology sought to address; the technical and social feasibility of their proposed solution; and the team’s plan to overcome possible technical and social hurdles associated with their solution. The eight finalist teams selected were: H2O TX from UTEP, HydroPal from Lamar University, TruePani from Georgia Tech, Vitae Mare from Texas A&M, The Drinkable Book from Carnegie Mellon University, Archangels of Water from Rice, VTEBBL Futuristic Five from Virginia Tech, and Panama Water and Sanitation from Bucknell University.

Three winning teams were awarded 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place as follows:

  • 1st place: TruePani of Georgia Institute of Technology presenting a household water sanitation kit that relies on galvanically-deposited copper to prevent microbial growth on drinking cups and storage containers.
  • 2nd place: VitaeMare of Texas A&M University presenting NanoWell—an inexpensive, low-power water generation system for the developing world.
  • 3rd place: VTEBBL Futuristic Five of Virginia Tech presenting a forward osmosis microbial desalination cell, aimed at treating wastewater and seawater.

Recognition was also given to a “Students’ Choice Award” as well as a “Best Poster Award.” Dr. Fermin Reygadas, Ashoka Fellow and Executive Director of Fundación Cántaro Azul, closed the day with a presentation about his cutting-edge technology and community-based models to create self-sufficient drinkable water systems in underserved rural areas of Mexico.

Team                                               University
KeenonClean: SLU Water Group        Saint Louis University
Kopo Wai                                         Carnegie Mellon University
EWDFI                                              University of Texas, El Paso
Cry Baby Water Project                     Cincinnati State
H2O TX                                            University of Texas, El Paso
Panama Water and Sanitation           Bucknell University
VT EBBL Futuristic Five                     Virginia Tech
Vitae Mare                                       Texas A&M – College Station
Midas Movement                             Colorado School of Mines
The Drinkable Book                         Carnegie Mellon University 
HydroPal                                          Lamar University
TruePani                                          Georgia Institute of Technology
Rich Gang                                        University of Connecticut
EcoVFM                                            University of Texas, El Paso
Arcangels of Water                           Rice University
Purer than PUR                                 Rice University
Purifive                                            Rice University
EWB-USA-Austin-Petrifilm               Engineers Without Borders, USA, Greater Austin Chapter