Honorable Mention - High School, National

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 14: Life Below Water

2023 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: Chadwick School
Location: Palos Verdes, CA
Coach: Dijanna Figueroa
Team members: Richard (Tres) Smith, Sean Dempsey

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Innovation Details

What is the problem your team solved for this challenge? What is the problem addressed? How is the problem connected to the selected SDG?

It rarely rains here in LA—when it does it’s often in spontaneous outbursts dumping sometimes more than ten percent of the current rainfall. After extended dry spells trash, oils, and toxic chemicals build up in the LA basin which get swept into the ocean during rains polluting the ocean. This pollution from urban runoff—and broader pollution from land-based activities—connects to UN SDG 14 “Life Below Water” which focuses on protecting our oceans. We started wondering how we can filter urban runoff from rain or floodwaters that washes both micro and macro debris into the storm drains in the LA area?

How was your solution inspired by nature? What (at least two) organisms did you learn from? How effectively did you combine the biological strategies for the final design?

We took inspiration for our solution mechanism through researching how nature’s organisms and ecosystems filter out contaminants. Through biology classes we had learned that our cells use a phospholipid-bilayer to regulate and filter what goes in and out of a cell using a hydrophobic layer and proteins. Research shows mangrove swamps can filter out up to 99% of salt ions from water, and wetland ecosystems filter water through a variety of different methods like “sediment trapping”, nutrient removal, and “chemical detoxification”. We focused on combining biological strategies from wetlands environments because they are evolutionary integrated with each other already.

What does your design solution do? How does it solve or mitigate the problem you selected? How did what you learn inform your design?

Our design solution will help protect coastal and ocean environments by filtering urban runoff of its dangerous levels of chemicals and toxins. We replicated how wetlands slow down the movement of water through muddy soil that the water flows through and herbaceous plants that bend and resist the flow of water. Both act to slow down the water which allows for heavier chemicals to sink down and get trapped in the sediment. We designed filter blocks that mimic how herbaceous plants slow down water and a porous base that still allows for flow but will catch larger particulates.