Seven McCormick Students Recognized in the Dow Sustainability Innovation Challenge

Twelve Northwestern students — including seven from the McCormick School of Engineering — have won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) in recognition of their research and innovative ideas contributing to global sustainability.

The Dow Sustainability Student Challenge was established to recognize exceptional work by graduate-level students who are engaged in ongoing scientific, technical, or social research to develop innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to meet human needs while also protecting the environment, promoting economic growth, and achieving social welfare, now and into the future.

The grand prize winners of the $10,000 prize are:

Ashish Basuray and Albert Fahrenbach, both graduate students in chemistry at the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, for their work to address food and water generation utilizing renewable power for local communities in developing nations in the midst of rapid climate change. With business advice from Dinesh Ganesarahah, MBA, and scientific mentoring from Fraser Stoddart, Board of Trustees Professor of Chemistry, Basuray and Fahrenbach have developed a GreenTop technology platform that condenses atmospheric moisture into water via energy generated by a small wind turbine, which then feeds into a nutrient source to carry the enriched water to a hydroponic honeycomb in order to support growth of vegetables and fruits.

The winners of the $2,500 runner-up prize are:

Thomas Yu and Joshua Lau (materials science and engineering, McCormick), Cary Hayner (chemical and biological engineering, McCormick), and Samir Mayekar, Nishit Mehta, and Guy Peterson (Kellogg School of Management), under the supervision of Harold Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering, for their work to revolutionize anode performance of Li-ion batteries in terms of both capacity and charging speed with little increase in cost. Their technology utilizes a layered composite material of nano-particulate silicon on a flexible graphene scaffold.

One entry received an honorable mention and a $500 prize:

Chuanie Zhou, Yang Tang, Wang Zhou (electrical engineering and computer science, McCormick) and Tejas Shastry (materials science and engineering, McCormick) under the supervision of Matthew Grayson, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering, for their work to develop a new class of thermoelectric materials called transverse thermoelectrics that will have unconventional advantages such as flexibility and micro-scalability, and lead to new applications such as personal thermoelectric jackets that can supplant air conditioners, thermoelectric batteries that can convert even small thermal gradients of waste heat into usable energy, and on-chip thermoelectric coolers that can be used to directly cool computer CPUs.

Northwestern is one of 17 universities worldwide selected to participate in the Dow SISCA competition, based on academic excellence and a commitment to sustainability. The other participating universities include Cambridge, Peking, Tufts, Michigan, Berkeley, Sao Paolo, KAUST, MIT, CalTech, PennState, Fudan, Shanghai Jiaotong, Tsinghua, Monterrey, Delft, and Minnesota.

“I’m thrilled that Northwestern University and The Dow Chemical Company are able to recognize the extraordinary and innovative work that our students and faculty are doing to develop environmentally sound, economically viable and socially equitable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” said Kimberly Gray, professor of civil and environmental engineering at McCormick. “We are grateful to Dow for partnering with us in this international effort to promote sustainability.” 

Dow oversees the Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge. Eligible areas of research include sustainable chemistry, energy efficiency and conservation, reducing climate change impact, life cycle product safety, and sustainable freshwater supply and distribution.

"The award-winning students of Northwestern University, and all the students who compete in this challenge, are sources of inspiration to Dow and to the world,” said Neil Hawkins, Sc.D., Vice President Sustainability & Environment, Health & Safety at Dow. “When you see how deeply they care about the problems, and you see that passion applied to the laws of science in their work, you gain a renewed appreciation for how important our young leaders are to the planet's future."