Screeching success

RCEL student engineering pitch contest draws hundreds

The winner of the DFJ Mercury First Prize in the inaugural RCEL Screech Competition was Jonathon Brame, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering. Here’s his winning screech:

Jonathon Brame

Jonathon Brame

Water, water everywhere, but nary a safe drop to drink!

In a world of intense use and increasing pollution of our limited freshwater resources, this ancient rhyme may become a modern reality.

Let me briefly tell you about several water-related facts relating to the number nine:

Ninety percent of the flow of the Trinity River, which is Houston’s main source of drinking water, is actually wastewater from the city of Dallas. This wastewater includes many pharmaceutical compounds — such as Tylenol, Oxycontin and birth control — that pass right through current wastewater treatment systems. Chances are, if you drink a glass of water in Houston, you’re drinking somebody else’s birth control.

Ninety-nine percent of many of these pharmaceutical compounds can be removed from water using the technology I’m researching called photocatalysis. A photocatalyst is a material that takes the incoming energy from light — such as the lights in this room or the light from the sun — and converts it into chemical energy that can be used to oxidize and remove these compounds from the water.

I’ve developed a portable photoreactor system that can be taken to any wastewater treatment plant and used as a proof-of-concept to test this technology.

Furthermore, what we’ve learned in this research can also help in the developing world, where 900 million people still lack access to safe drinking water.

To put that number in perspective: Every 90 seconds — the length of these talks tonight — five children die in the developing world from water-related diseases that could be prevented using this technology.

Thank you.

With cheers and whoops of excitement, more than 250 students, faculty and staff kicked off the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership’s (RCEL) inaugural Screech Competition Oct. 4 in Duncan Hall. The fast-moving, high-energy event featured 44 engineering graduate students giving 90-second “elevator pitches” about their research.

Screech competition

More than 250 students, faculty and staff kicked off the RCEL's inaugural Screech Competition.

Organized by the RCEL Graduate Committee, the competition created a palpable air of excitement in Martel Hall and McMurtry Auditorium.

“I really feel that we saw a bit of history this evening,” said RCEL Co-director Ray Simar, professor in the practice of electrical and computer engineering. “Not a bad way to kick off a second century of engineering at Rice.”

These pitches, or “research screeches,” were purposely framed so the general public could quickly capture the objectives, social applicability and unconventional wisdom that exemplifies Rice.

Rice faculty and industry representatives served as judges, and prize money totaled more than $4,000.

Screech sponsors included Rice Engineering Alumni, the George R. Brown School of Engineering, the Rice Alliance, Sparx Engineering, Baker Hughes and DFJ Mercury.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.