Challenge Winners Passionate about Creating Sustainable Solutions
Published April 23, 2018
Imagine living in one of the densest cities in the world, which suffers from a serious resource crisis every day, and then you come across an opportunity to create something to help combat that problem. That’s what happened to Irhum Shafkat, 15, from Rajuk Uttara Model College, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Through an exciting opportunity offered by the Academy, he found the chance to design technologies to make cities cleaner and more efficient.
According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, buildings and production of heat and electricity essential to the operations of those buildings, accounts for 31% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Green buildings can help solve this problem, hence the driving force behind the partnership between United Technologies and the New York Academy of Sciences to create a challenge where students design sustainable buildings. Each participant in the United Technologies Future of Buildings and Cities Challenge had their own reasons for joining the challenge, from protecting the environment, to accomplishing something outside their comfort zone, to participating in the innovation process.
“My teammates and I were determined to combat the negative repercussions that human activities have brought upon the environment by participating in the challenge and designing an efficient skyscraper,” said Arunima Sen, 16, a student at, Kendriya Vidyalaya Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India.
Students self-select into teams through Launchpad, the Academy’s proprietary virtual collaboration platform. Launchpad enables virtual collaboration and project-based activities between any configuration of participants. After learning about the challenge, students share ideas in discussion groups and decide which project or team interests them. Irhum, Arunima, and their fellow collaborators from Norway, Nepal, and Romania worked with their mentor from the U.S., Patrick Dietz, Stress Engineer at United Technologies Aerospace.
Despite dealing with their disparate time zones, Bani Singh, 18, from Minerva Schools at KGI, Oslo, Norway, said it was “an amazing opportunity to bring together various perspectives, knowledge, and ideas to the table.”
Working across time zones was a challenge for them when communicating on their project but they didn’t just have to schedule meetings to accommodate their time differences, as Bani noted, they also had to work around their busy academic schedules.
While the students were excited about the opportunity to design a sustainable building, Darius Filip, 17, from National College, Vasile Lucaciu, Baia Mare, Romania said, their greatest obstacle was “enhancing existing technologies in order to develop a sustainable building that did not sacrifice modern conveniences.” Irhum said they developed several ideas during brainstorming and it was hard to pick the one that they believed would be feasible.
Their goal was to design a “smart building” with walls that are dynamic, living surfaces to counter greenhouse gasses, internal systems that can convert waste into resources with new, useful applications, and more efficient HVAC systems that make use of solar energy and artificial intelligence. The team’s innovative solution consists of a water recycling system, solar panels, “green walls”, and a home assistant. You can learn more about their winning project here.
Irhum’s favorite part of this challenge was refining all the ideas they conceptualized to create their solution. He noted that none of their initial ideas were close to their final version. Sachin Dangi, 18, from Xavier International, Kathmandu, Nepal, said one of the obstacles they resolved was what building shape would work best for the sustainable solutions they were considering. They drew inspiration from the slopes of the Pyramids, then linked them to modern skyscrapers, and imagined what future buildings would look like. While doing research, the team discovered that a solar wall at a 75 degree angle produced 23.7 percent more energy than a 90 degree angle. The roof is also tilted at a 30 degree angle with a solar panel. The team found that most productive regions for solar panels are situated between zero degrees and 50 degrees latitude N/S and designing the roof to tilt close to these values would promote productivity. The building is 30 stories high and because the top floors are too small for regular use, they utilize them in other ways. The 21st to the 26th stories will be relaxation areas and enclosed observation decks. The final four stories will be used for the hardware needed to control all the building systems.
Ioana-Elena Tarabasanu-Mihaila, 17, from Saint Sava National College, Bucharest, Romania, had no idea what was involved in a collaborative project like this. She said that for her, it wasn’t about the research or ideas, it was about the late night calls with the team, choosing the best idea, and bringing everything together to make it work. The whole team agreed that their favorite part of this project was working with their teammates from around the world.
And while the students sacrificed their personal time, they agreed it was a worthwhile endeavor and look forward to meeting their teammates in person when they attend the Global STEM Alliance (GSA) Summit at the New York Academy of Sciences in July.
You can harness the power of networks to create innovative solutions to the world's challenges by taking part in an Academy Challenge. Learn more.