Students at Work: Come Get Inspired!

By Tom Burke

Portrait of Tom BurkeBefore coming to EPA, I was a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I am still a teacher at heart and what I miss most is the day-to-day interaction with my students. It is so inspiring to watch enthusiastic and bright students devote themselves to the science of environmental protection and public health. This weekend (April 16 and 17), you can come witness that same spirit of energy and innovation at the U.S. EPA P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) student design competition, a highlight of the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

Thirty-eight student teams comprised of the world’s next generation of scientists and engineers will share their projects as they vie for additional funding as part of the design competition. The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams apply for grants of up to $15,000 to research and test sustainability ideas. At the Science and Engineering Festival, funded teams will showcase their designs in anticipation of Phase II awards announced in the summer, which include up to $75,000 in additional grant money to help bring their products to the marketplace.

Since P3’s beginning in 2004, EPA has funded more than 5,300 students and faculty, and 26 companies have been founded based upon the innovative ideas they shared during the competition.

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P3 Teams share their love of sustainability!

For example, a former team of students from Harvard University, Wellesley College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Qinghai Normal University founded the nonprofit organization One Earth Designs, launched on their successful design of “a high- performance parabolic solar concentrator that harnesses the energy of the sun for outdoor cooking,” according to their website. This product, called the “Solsource 3-in-1” has replaced traditional wood-burning cookstoves for hundreds of rural families around the world, saving them from sooty indoor air pollution and reducing pressure on local forests at the same time.

Another former team, from Oberlin College, won a P3 grant for their prototype, the Building Dashboard, which tracks in real-time how much energy and water occupants are using in a building, providing visual insights that can help them change their habits. Now, that team is the award-winning company Lucid and their technology has helped reduce energy consumption in over 11,000 buildings all over the country.

The work our P3 competitors do is amazing, which is why we love this annual event. Students and faculty sharing their P3 projects offer you the opportunity to see science the way they do: as an amazing tool that can help solve the world’s toughest environmental problems. Come out and be inspired by the ingenious work of the next generation of scientists and engineers—they’re changing our world.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival is a free, all-day event located at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW in Washington DC on April 16th and 17th.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. He served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health prior to coming to EPA. Before his time at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Burke was Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey and Director of the Office of Science and Research in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

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