Sustainors in final four!

Congratulations to our Sustainors team (Year 12 students Anupam, Diya, Ali, Eleanor and Lily) on being announced as one of just four finalists in The Davidson Inventors Challenge (DIC), a collaborative competition led by the University of Cambridge and the Association of Science Technology and Innovation (ASTI) in Malaysia aimed at Year 11 and 12 students. It attracts teams from all over the UK to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills to research a problem and come up with a sustainable and innovative solution involving chemical engineering, to tackle it.

This year, teams were challenged to look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the United Nations to address global challenges. Teams in the competition were asked to choose one or more of the UN goals, identify a particular problem, and come up with a sustainable, innovative solution that makes a positive global impact.

Amongst several teams from LGS, the “Sustainors”, decided to enter in January. In February, after meeting to discuss possible ideas and inventions their outline paper was submitted to the judges. After this round feedback from the academic mentors was returned and the real work on the project began. The team, made up of Year 12 students Eleanor Wildman, Lily Dimitrova, Ali Khan, Diya Premkumar and Anupam Cunden, divided the project between them and set out to research solutions.

The Sustainors identified the recently discovered problem of microplastic pollution as their target. Microplastics have been shown to be present all over the world in fresh and seawater, and recently microplastics have been found to be building up in the guts of marine life causing health problems. This also poses a problem for humans as the plastics have been introduced to our diet and water supply.

Although companies and governments are now working to reduce microplastics entering our environment, they already exist in abundance. The team’s aim was to work out how to remove and dispose of microplastics in the water, which would aid in working towards UN goals of clean water and improving life in rivers and seas. In addition they tried to look at ways of reducing the impact on the climate of these plastics by safer disposal.

In May, the Sustainors submitted their entry to the competition. Their idea involved combining the existing invention of ferrofluids to remove microplastics from water, with the use of titanium dioxide and UV light to break down microplastics that are recovered, via photodegradation.

The students designed a model to extract the microplastics with ferrofluids, leaving behind clean water. This process was achieved using an electromagnetic arm, to remove and treat the residual microplastics with Titanium dioxide and ultraviolet light to allow them to be broken down into water and small quantities of carbon dioxide far more quickly than would otherwise occur: in hours rather than centuries! The Sustainors were conscious that they must develop a model that does not further damage the environment, and is not resource intensive. Therefore, this system has been designed to be long lasting and to involve recycling the materials used within the process, as the remaining ferrofluids can be re-used to start the process again after UV treatment.

The team believes that this invention has multiple applications, with their initial aims being to be used in water treatment plants on a large scale, which could lead to significant reductions in pollution globally.

At the end of May, the judging panel looked at all the ideas that had been submitted to the competition, and the team was delighted to learn that the Sustainors were one of four that had been invited to participate in the Final in June.

They are now hard at work producing a final presentation to the judges which, along with a Q&A  session will be judged by Cambridge University academics and industry representatives from the Chemical Engineering institutes.

The final will be streamed online on the 23 June and the following link is available for anyone who would like to watch: https://www.ceb.cam.ac.uk/events/davidson-inventors-challenge-final-and-awards-ceremony-2023.