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Student Biodesigns And The Future of Water Pollution

From cleaning toilets to powering barges, microbes take to the water.

Over the last few months, water has become the focus of debate in the United States as ugly details of the Flint water crisis come to light. The problem of water contamination is global. Some 2 million tons of sewage and other effluent drain into the world’s waters, according to the United Nations. To explore the issue, students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and New York University (NYU) explored how microbes can both contribute to and diminish water pollution.

In Live(r) Clear, Amanda Harrold, Kathleen McDermott, Jacob Steiner and Perrine Papillaud from RPI envisioned a living microbial membrane on the surface of toilet bowls that traps estrogen and other pharmaceuticals excreted in urine. Today’s sewage systems do not filter these compounds, which end up damaging aquatic ecosystems. Live(r) Clear addresses this problem pre-flush. Check out more RPI projects here.

Nan Zhou at NYU also addressed water pollution through public awareness. Her project, Water Dock, proposed a living art installation devoted to tiny marine life and the threat of contaminants in the ocean. Viewers walk through an underwater gallery surrounded by tanks of both these organisms and the pollutants.

With the risk of rising sea levels destroying waterfronts, Ayaka Habu, Carter Bird, Theo Mandin-Lee at NYU designed a greenmarket to withstand flooding. Set in a once derelict dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their Float Farm is powered by an algae roof and housed on a barge. The barge contains a small fishery, a garden, and a bioreactor to create an environmentally sustainable structure. (See more NYU projects).

Biodesign Challenge launched a second semester of classes at universities around the country this spring. Check back for more highlights soon.