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Engineering Team Earns $90,000 Award for Innovations to Launch Social Enterprise in Zambia

Celebrating their victory are (from left) students Andrew Matsumoto and Ethan Bannister, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and GU students Melanie Walter, Spencer Fry, and Sidney Elmenhurst. Photo courtesy of Andrew Matsumoto.

(from left) Gonzaga engineering students Andrew Matsumoto and Ethan Bannister, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and GU engineering students Melanie Walter, Spencer Fry, and Sidney Elmenhurst. Photo courtesy of Andrew Matsumoto.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A team of five Gonzaga University engineering students captured a $90,000 grant in a national engineering competition in the nation’s capital last month for developing two methods to improve the health of Zambian women and children and a plan to distribute the devices in the African nation.

One of the students’ breakthroughs involves development of a simple ventilation system for kitchens in rural dwellings that uses electricity generated from thermoelectric cells that are driven by the waste heat from cooking fires. Their second development is a ceramic water filter made with local materials to remove contaminants from drinking water in the home.

The students won the award in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 8th annual People, Prosperity and the Planet competition April 21-23. The competition encourages college students to design environmental solutions that aim for a sustainable future, encourage economic growth, and use natural resources more efficiently.

The team also earned the $1,000 American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers Without Borders Sustainability Award at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The team will use the award money to implement students’ plan to establish a social enterprise in Zambia to support clean water and air.

“We will have two years to construct and establish a workshop in Zambia that will make and sell ceramic point-of-use water filters and a thermal-electric-powered ventilation system,” said Gonzaga civil engineering Professor Noel Bormann, one of the team’s faculty advisors.

Click the image below to view a short slideshow from the students’ trip:

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The GU team began with the Phase I grant of $15,000 in August 2011. They developed a ceramic water filter, which requires less material and fuel-wood to manufacture, and created a thermal-electric device to convert waste heat from a cooking fire to 12-volt power that can ventilate smoke and particulates from a kitchen. The students said they are excited their hard work will help improve the lives of Zambian families. More details are online for the students’ project, titled “Integrating Improved Sustainable Technologies into the Heart of the Home — The Kitchen.”

The National Sustainable Design Expo, co-sponsored by the EPA and ASCE, featured 45 teams of college students competing for Phase II funding to implement projects developed the past year. The Gonzaga team emerged from an initial pool of some 160 initial teams and was one of only 15 teams to earn Phase II funding. Gonzaga has earned a Phase I award seven of the past eight years, and won honorary mention in each of the past seven previous competitions.

Gonzaga is in excellent company as a P3 winner. Other recent winners of the prestigious competition are among the largest and most respected engineering programs in the nation, including: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Purdue University, Duke University, Princeton University, University of Illinois, and others.

The team includes: senior civil engineering students Melanie Walter, from Judith Gap, Mont. (pop. 147), and Andrew Matsumoto, Yakima, Wash.; senior mechanical engineering students Ethan Bannister, Seattle, and Sidney Elmenhurst, Woodinville, Wash., and junior engineering management major Spencer Fry, Wilsonville, Ore. Matsumoto and Fry are also students in Gonzaga’s Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. Faculty guiding the team included Noel Bormann, Mara London and Paul Nowak (civil engineering), Patrick Ferro (mechanical engineering), and Christopher Stevens (entrepreneurship and business management in the School of Business Administration).

For more information about the awards or the Gonzaga team, contact Professor Noel Bormann at (509) 313-3528 or via e-mail.

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