Plastic in the world’s oceans is a growing problem. By 2050, it is estimated that the mass of plastic waste will exceed the mass of marine life if nothing is done to control the flow of waste into waterways.
Wright State students from colleges across the university came together in an effort to come up with a solution April 12–14 at Wright State’s Innovation Weekend.
Twice a year, Wright State gathers students to work together in teams to solve a real-world problem. In the past, the problems have revolved around efficient, accurate communication and sharing of medical data in combat scenarios. This year, the problem was different.
Innovation Weekend began on April 12 with a welcome and introduction from Douglas Leaman, the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics.
“You represent cross-disciplinary teams that are all here to solve real-world problems,” he told Innovation Weekend participants. “This region is a hub of workforce development and technology and these are the types of skills they are seeking.”
After the students introduced themselves to each other, they broke up into groups based on the section of the problem of plastic they wanted to tackle: production, recycling, remediation, replacement, education and disruption of the flow of plastic into waterways. They could also work on plant and wildlife protection.
On April 13, students worked in teams based on the solution they wanted to pursue. A total of seven groups emerged. Throughout the day, mentors from different academic fields assisted the students with research and answered questions that would help the students create their solutions.
April 14 was the day the students presented their solutions to a panel of judges. The teams presented a variety of ideas, ranging from hemp netting to replacing plastic packaging for shipping to engineering plankton that can digest microplastics in the ocean.
The first, second and third teams won cash prizes of $500, $250 and $150, respectively. The first-place team pitched melting waste plastic down into oil and gas; the second-place team proposed making bottles out of cellulose, a farming byproduct; and the third-place team pitched a three-part filter that breaks down plastic with sunlight and bacterial and fungal manufactured wetlands.
“Without a doubt, every presentation represented a novel and innovative strategy. In many cases, students were working outside of their chosen fields, but you never would have known that based on the complexities of the solutions,” Leaman said. “Even the ideas that might not be feasible yet were worthy of additional thought and refinement. It was fantastic.”