One world, many challenges, many minds.

UAlberta students tackle global issues with the World’s Challenge Challenge

The recent World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC) competition at UAlberta was a strong reminder that when bright young minds come together, the results are amazing. When it comes to tackling global issues, UAlberta students have proven once again that they are ready to take action. 

 
UAlberta semi-finalists Kris Buote, Rohinesh Ram, & Ty Hartwig 

Originally founded by Western University, the WCC expanded to a global scale this year in celebration of Canada 150. Semi-finals are being hosted around the world at universities across Canada, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand.  The ten finalist teams will meet at Western University in London, Ontario on May 29, 2017 to vie for the $30,000 grand prize.

The WCC asks student teams of three to develop a five minute presentation on a project or idea that will serve the public good by addressing a critical global issue. The focus can include a wide range of areas, including economy, health, safety, sustainability, and more, but must have a connection to the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  

The UAlberta WCC semi-finals took place in January, when 20 teams presented to a judging panel of UAlberta experts.

The teams did not fail to impress, presenting world-class initiatives to face challenges that included harnessing radiant energy, combatting female genital mutilation, reducing poverty and illiteracy, improving communications technology for those in disaster situations, and more.

From the pool of 20, nine teams were selected as finalists and went on to the UAlberta WCC Finals in February, coordinated by University of Alberta International as part of UAlberta International Week. Teams presented to a panel of four judges, chaired by Chancellor Doug Stollery with Heather McPherson, Executive Director, Alberta Council for Global Cooperation; Dr. Renee Elio, Professor, Associate Dean, Faculty of Science; Dr. Janine Brodie, Distinguished Professor and Canada Research Chair, Faculty of Arts.

“WCC was a wonderful manifestation of the innovation and ingenuity that young scholars can bring to light when​ they try to tackle global challenges,” says Britta Baron, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (International), UAlberta. “To see such enthusiasm and passion in our students,  ​and to experience their dedication to contribute to the public good, ​ can inspire a sense of pride in all of us. UAlberta’s 20 teams all put forward unique and transformative ideas – I look forward to seeing what they accomplish in the coming years​ and I wish our UAlberta team the best of luck in the national finals.”

In the end, a team of three undergraduate engineering students, Ty Hartwig, Rohinesh Ram, and Kris Buote, took the win.

 
 Example of growing with vertical hydroponics

Their project on urban farming has the potential to change the way that people access food globally, with aims to “reinvent the food chain” by reducing waste of food and water through vertical hydroponic growing technology.

The group has already launched the UAlberta Urban Farming Organization on campus—a project that could expand to a global scale. “We are exploring new farming methodologies to move towards a more sustainable future that eliminates waste,” explains Buote.  “The WCC presented an opportunity for us shed some light on the agricultural issues we face, share our ideas and solutions with the campus community, challenge the way we think about food production, and ultimately help the movement grow.”

The group has their sights set on New Delhi, India as their first international pilot location– the world’s third largest urban area, presenting a metro density 100 times higher than Edmonton.  Their goal? That by 2022, 33% per cent of leafy greens and herbs be produced locally and sustainably in target regions around the world.

“Vertical hydroponics can revolutionize the current global food supply chain because it eliminates the need for transportation of produce from rural areas to urban ones, therefore reducing emissions and wasted goods,” explains Ram. “Hydroponic systems drastically improve water efficiency, which, in drought-prone countries, is invaluable.”

How would such a technology make a significant impact in areas such as New Delhi?  “Hydroponics systems can be fit in tight existing spaces directly in urban areas where the food is needed,” explains Hartwig.  “Even a small system can produce meaningful yields of leafy greens, herbs, and other veggies.”

“We really just hope to spark that conversation about sustainable alternative agriculture methods here on campus and throughout the city,” Hartwig adds, “I think the timing is right for these ideas to catch the imagination of people everywhere and to see hydroponics and other vertical farming technologies to become a more mainstream option.”

Heading into the finals, Buote hopes that a victory would provide funding to take their plans into action and make a positive mark on the world.  The most exciting part? “We went from just talking about making a change to actually doing something. We’re getting to apply our engineering knowledge in a unique way to something that really matters.”