Dartmouth Engineering Student Team Selected to Represent US at Global Grand Challenges Summit

May 14, 2019

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced Dartmouth as one of five student teams selected from more than two dozen competitors to represent the US in a business plan competition at the 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit in London on September 12–18, 2019.

As members of Dartmouth Humanitarian Engineering (DHE), the student team developed "The Compost Tea Project" which aims to deliver sustainable organic fertilizing solutions to low-income urban farmers who face soil nutrient deficiency, but lack the space, time, and finances needed to implement traditional composting systems.

The Compost Tea Project team
Team Members (l to r): John Weingart '22, Jack Sadoff '21, Suraj Srivats '22, Alexandria Chen '20, Anna Dodson '20, and Joshua de la Cruz '22.

After many terms of travel, prototyping, and design, the Compost Tea Project members presented at the Grand Challenges meeting in Washington, DC and were then selected to attend the Global Summit in London. The summit is a collaboration of the NAE, the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Each Academy is selecting five student teams that will propose an innovation or novel approach for addressing aspects of the theme of this year’s summit, "Engineering in an Unpredictable World." The teams will convene in London to compete, and then will be reassigned on-site to mixed country teams for additional challenges.

Compost Tea device shown to locals in Ecuador
Team members show their prototype to 'ConQuito' in Quito, Ecuador.

"One of the specific questions that the Grand Challenges competition asked students to answer was, 'How do we sustain 10 billion people?'" said project co-leader Alex Chen '20. "We picked this project to help low-income urban farmers in Quito, Ecuador improve soil quality through utilizing a cheaper, more effective, and sustainable composting system. We identified Quito because we are working with a partner NGO there called 'ConQuito' and they have thousands of small orchards scattered across the city which would benefit from our device.

"This competition helped us formalize our project as well as create a viable business model for technology distribution," added Chen. "In London, we hope to continue to bring more attention to our project as well as learn from peers and professionals in the industry."

In an effort to insure that solutions address the most pressing issues facing targeted populations, the NAE teams participated in a version of the National Science Foundation's I-Corps program. Teams were trained to identify, access, and interview key members of the ecosystems who are directly impacted by the problems they are attempting to solve. Teams interviewed numerous 'customers' and in doing so, came to a deeper understanding of the specific challenges they must address.

The 2019 Global Grand Challenges Summit will be broadcast worldwide, with satellite events on every continent, creating a truly global effort in addressing global grand challenges through engineering. The summit was inspired by the NAE 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering.