Clean water isn’t something we can take for granted anymore. (Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/cleaner-wet-pearl-purity-liquid-3177074/)
All over the United States (and the world), water quality issues are cropping up. Contaminants, aging infrastructure, and new discoveries with implications for water quality are all causing new concerns every day. The University of Rhode Island is hoping that innovative students will help solve some of these problems at their upcoming Water Quality Hackathon, scheduled for March 2 through March 4.
Hackathon co-organizer Vinka Oyanedel-Craver, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at URI, spoke to EM about the plans for the event.
“The event was conceived of as part of the proposed activities in a National Science Foundation award called SCC-Planning: Smart and Connected Residential Water Quality Communities,” Oyanedel-Craver explains. “This is very interdisciplinary proposal with faculty with civil and environmental and Biomedical/Electrical Engineering, working with faculty from Political Science and Behavioral Science, to understand how we can educate residents to collect water quality data in their homes to be used in connection with information collected by water utilities to create a large monitoring network of water quality.”
During the hackathon, URI students and students from other colleges will form teams, generate ideas, and then design and build their water quality solutions. Their designs will qualify in the competition for a $1,000 prize if they can improve water monitoring, quality, education, and/or communications. The organizers ultimately hope to achieve several goals with this exciting event.
“We hope that students learn more about the problem, generate solutions, and come up with a proof-of-concept to display or show to other participants,” details Oyanedel-Craver. “We have also contacted professionals from other academic institutions, companies, and state organizations who will participate as mentors or judges, to help the student teams to put their ideas into context, and see the relevance of their proposed solutions.”
Although URI has organized other Hacks, this is the first Water Quality Hackathon for the institution. They are expecting around 10 teams of 4 to 6 students, and about 15 mentors and 7 judges from different organization and agencies. Successful water hacks have taken place from New Orleans to South Africa, and URI is hoping their hackathon will follow those examples.
One of the truly exciting aspects of the competition is that even the organizers can’t be sure what the participants will produce.
“The great thing about these Hacks is that you do not really know what the student teams will come up with,” remarks Oyanedel-Craver. “I obviously have my ideas of what I would like to see, but I am really waiting for the student teams. I believe they will wow me with solutions I have not even thought about. I have hope in Millennials!”
Another important aspect of the Hackathon as conceived of here is the emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration.
“I think our work is novel based on the great balance we have achieved among the disparate disciplines such as engineering, social sciences, and health sciences,” adds Oyanedel-Craver. “This is so important in the context of working with members of the public to bring them in as active participants in scenarios that have been traditionally restricted to people with medium to high levels of technical expertise.”
The fact is that even people with less technical backgrounds have plenty to offer in this context—and everything to gain.
“Advances in portable devices and sensors are allowing people with minimal training to collect meaningful information, and we need to use this fact to develop better monitoring systems that could be useful not only for everyday monitoring but also in case of emergency situations,” asserts Oyanedel-Craver.
So, if you’re in New England or willing to travel, consider checking in at the URI Water Quality Hackathon this weekend.
“You are more than welcome to visit anytime during the weekend, the event is open to everybody,” states Oyanedel-Craver.