Third Place - High School

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 13: Climate Action

  • Goal 14: Life Below Water

2020 Youth Design Challenge

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Corona del Mar High School
Location: Newport Beach, CA
Coach: Heather Kroeger
Team members: Aiden Walsh, Cameron Harty, Cyrus Ordoubadian, Daniel Liang, Dylan Dyer, Madison Yee, Nadia Khazei, Sebastian Demarias

Video Pitch

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Innovation Details

This group of 9th graders sought to solve the issue of eutrophication caused by nutrient pollution (nitrogen) entering their local watershed and looked to nature to propose a solution that is inexpensive, compact, and versatile. Eutrophication occurs when excess nutrients within water bodies produce algae blooms, which then deplete oxygen levels in the water, harming aquatic life. Their design, the BayProtector, removes excess nitrogen from stormwater and is inspired by the small intestine. The team looked first at villi, small structures found in the lining of the small intestine, which assist with nutrient absorption. Next, they recognized the small intestine’s high surface area and meandering shape as inspiration to further improve the design.


What is the problem addressed for this Challenge and how is it related to climate change?

The project addresses the issue of algal blooms, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change. Nutrient pollution is responsible for damaging many marine ecosystems and manifests in algal blooms and hypoxic “dead zones”, or areas of the ocean devoid of life. The blooms’ effects extend beyond the environment, harming human health and causing economic damage. As climate change continues, increasing global temperatures will provide ideal conditions for algal bloom growth. Recognizing that current solutions are too costly and require lots of land and infrastructure, the team set out to combat the growing issue of algal blooms.


What does this design solution do? How does it solve and improve a problem?

The BayProtector accomplishes the task of nitrogen removal from stormwater. The BayProtector uses villi-inspired structures containing ion exchange resin beads that remove nitrogen from water and maximize the surface area of absorption, just as in the small intestine. By removing nitrogen from water sources flowing into a larger body of water, the BayProtector significantly reduces the nitrogen levels of that body of water. By significantly reducing nitrogen emissions into waterways in a more cost-effective and compact manner, this design would reduce the severity and frequency of algal blooms.


How was this solution inspired by nature? What organisms inspired it?

When developing the design, inspiration was taken from the villi, small structures found lining the small intestine which assist with nutrient absorption. With a characteristic high surface area, the villi optimize their ability to capture the nutrients flowing through the small intestine. In addition to the villi, the team saw the small intestine’s meandering shape as inspiration to further improve the design’s absorption surface area, leading to the conception of the BayProtector prototype. The physical prototype was able to reduce the nitrate concentration of a solution by an astonishing 92%.