Prize-Winning Student Solutions in Water, Food, and Agriculture

Rapid shifts in population growth, climate change, and urban development threaten the security of the world’s water and food. MIT’s efforts to address these issues are not limited to faculty; strong concern bolsters student-run organizations like the MIT Water Club and MIT Food and Agriculture Club, both of which are surfacing creative student approaches to these challenges through innovation competitions.

“We firmly believe the solution to many of these problems really is to create entities that will go out on their own, as businesses, and propagate new and good ideas,” says John H. Lienhard V, director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), which offers support to both prizes.

“It’s about bringing ideas to a place where they can get off the ground and also solidifying MIT as a place where food and agriculture innovation happens,” says Samantha Fahrbach, an MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management and president of the Food and Agriculture Club.

In the club’s 2017 competition, three teams received the second annual Rabobank-MIT Food & Agribusiness Innovation Prize. Cambridge Crops, an MIT-Tufts University team developing a silk-based coating that extends the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, earned the top prize ($12,000). EcoSprays, which will help farmers cut pesticide use, lower costs, and reduce pollution, took second place ($8,000). And third place ($5,000) went to WISRAN, which uses cloud-connected sensors to monitor and analyze the efficiency of farming equipment and activities.

In the same year, the three teams earning $10,000 Water Innovation Prizes (WIP) from the MIT Water Club were: change:WATER Labs, which is developing a low-cost, compact, waterless toilet; PipeGuard, which conserves water by using smart robotic solutions to detect leaks in distributions systems; and Takachar, which is creating a condensed, carbon-negative fertilizer blend that helps rural farmers decrease irrigation needs.

Momentum continues for previous WIP winners: Redox Water Solutions, a 2016 awardee, received $40,000 from Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Catalyst program; published a paper in Energy and Environmental Science; and applied for a patent. AquaFresco, a 2015 winner, also earned a $40,000 Catalyst grant as well as another $150,000 from MassCEC’s InnovateMass program.