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U of M student project to create a cooking fuel from a destructive aquatic plant in Africa wins $10K prize in Dow SISCA Challenge

Runners-up receive $2,500 to study the destruction of antibiotic resistance genes in residual municipal wastewater

December 3, 2012

A student proposal to help West African people turn Typha australis, a destructive aquatic plant, into cooking and heating fuel captured the $10,000 top prize in a Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) competition held Nov. 29 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The collaborative project, presented by student Matthew Aro, a Ph.D. candidate in Natural Resources Science and Management and a scientist at the Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota, Duluth, was one of six submitted to the Dow SISCA challenge at the University of Minnesota, which is one of 17 universities around the world participating in the program. SISCA recognizes and rewards students and universities for innovation and research that encourages and promotes sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing social, economic and environmental problems. The competition was open to full-time graduate and professional students enrolled at all campuses of the University of Minnesota.

Runner-up recipient Tucker Burch, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ College of Science and Engineering, received $2,500 to pursue the application of thermophilic anaerobic digestion for the destruction of antibiotic resistance genes in residual municipal wastewater solids.

Judges were from Dow Chemical and the University of Minnesota. The awards are financial scholarships to the students to allow them to further develop their ideas.

"We’re extremely proud of these winners and of all of the students who participated in our inaugural Dow SISCA competition," said Fred Rose, who organized the University of Minnesota competition and who directs Acara, a program for emerging social entrepreneurs that is jointly supported by IonE and the University’s College of Science and Engineering. "Their vision and the work they put into identifying pressing sustainability challenges and innovative approaches to solving them are exemplary. We look forward to seeing where their dreams and initiative take them next."

Other finalists were:

Kevin Lang and Jonathan Clayton (College of Veterinary Medicine) – Understanding Ecological Impacts of Dioxin Contamination Using Endangered Primates as Sentinel Species

Brian Krohn (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) – Brighter Market

Anna Harmon (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences) – Hygrothermal Performance of Basement Walls in Cold-Weather Climates

Baris Mutlu (College of Science and Engineering) and Sujin Yeom (Medical School) – Development of a Silica Gel Encapsulated Cell Bioremediation System for Wastewater Treatment

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth's biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information on IonE and the Acara Program, visit For more information on the Dow SISCA program, see

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