PLTW Students Win National Engineering Competition

June 9, 2012

Philanthropy and creative design encouraged a group of students at Gulliver Preparatory School to create and manufacture a clean energy water filtration system to send to Cité Soleil, Haiti in July 2012. After several devastating natural disasters, the country of Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, while holding the highest number of infant mortalities, mainly due to the prevalence of waterborne diseases.

Previously, Gulliver Engineering students designed a water filtration system to send to St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Haiti. The 2010 earthquake forced the students to redesign and reinforce their design, as well as change its planned destination as the hospital crumbled during the devastatingly powerful tremors. Luckily, the former water purification system found a new home and currently supports over three hundred children housed by the organization Friends of the Orphans.

The design team this year analyzed the previous device and found that with UV lights, wires, and a necessary electrical outlet to support the purifier, it proved too complex and fragile. As accessibility of clean, potable water remains a major issue in Haiti, the team decided to create a new water purification system, one that did not need an external energy source and could provide water to users who desperately need this vital resource with ease.

A group of engineering seniors conceptualized Operation Gulliver International, an extension of the Gulliver engineering department that would give a home to the students who wanted to make an impact on a global scale, starting with the country of Haiti and their idealized water purification system.

After numerous design modifications and construction improvements, the team arrived at their current design. Contaminated water is taken in by an intake hose connected to a mechanical hand pump, and then pushed through a quad-filtration system connected by PVC pipe. The water is then purified and stored in a fifteen-gallon tank that can be pressurized (via a second mechanically-powered air pump), to be released through three non-contact spigots, or released in large quantities by opening a dunk valve. The whole system is mounted on a hand truck and thus allows individuals to gather dirty water, purify and store it, drink by a non-contact siphoning system and transport this vital resource from home to water source and back again.

The team entered its design to the Spirit of Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Conrad Foundation, a competition that encourages students to delve into STEM areas and find their niche in one of the three categories: Aerospace Exploration, Clean Energy, or Health and Nutrition. Hundreds of teams submitted their designs and the final five for each category were invited to a conference in San Jose, California at the NASA Ames Research Center. Each team gave a presentation about their designs and marketing proposals and enjoyed learning from keynote speakers. Esteemed guests such as Vint Cerf, Rusty Schweickart, Gina Rudan, Richard Black, and other executives and entrepreneurs, highly successful in their respective fields participated in ‘fireside chats’ with the finalist team members and stayed for what was generally an incredibly thought-provoking question-and-answer session.

The Clean Energy category included projects focused on harnessing energy by conversion of human kinetic energy or through implementation of piezoelectric tiles, sustainable business models for replacing inefficient light bulbs with LED ones, and Operation Gulliver International’s clean energy water purification system. After hours of deliberation, the judges of the Clean Energy category recognized Operation Gulliver International as the best in their category. The team was deeply honored by the nationally recognized title and a cash prize of $5,000. Furthermore, the team made valuable contacts that expressed an
interest in helping the team to make their business plan and dreams of sending multiple devices worldwide, a tangible reality.

Operation Gulliver International members are so excited about their recent accomplishment, yet recognize that even after winning, there is much work to be done. The team is now focused on developing their relationships with the entrepreneurs, business people, attorneys, and others interested in helping the team to succeed and make a global impact. In preparation for Operation Gulliver International’s next challenge, two team members Shayanth Sinnarajah and Lucia Herrmann will focus on the global sustainability of the team’s project for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. The team reached a level of unity and cooperation throughout the design process and are looking forward to the continual research and development of their influential product. Each member holds a sense of pride in the fact that they were part of something that has the capacity to really make a difference in the lives of individuals who do not have access to clean water on a daily basis.