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The growth study has begun at USF. Environmental Engineering students are researching the direct effects of fertilizer treatments on the growth of rye grass. Students are utilizing different combinations of struvite, MCP, clinoptilite and chabazite to see which fertilizer and/or combination produces the greatest positive difference from the conventional fertilizers used today. Different methods of production were used to make the some of the fertilizers along with different amounts – a half and full dose are used. It is unknown what the specific trends are going to be until more weeks pass, however, there is promise of a good ending in this beginning.

Sprouts emerge a week after planting by USF students

Sprouts emerge a week after planting by USF students

The students involved in this endeavor under the direction of Dr. Sarina Ergas are Adib Amini, Veronica Aponte, John Pilz, Lindsay Guntner and Andres Garcia. Andres Garcia is a high school student who is utilizing his experiences at a research university like USF to sharpen his scientific abilities with hopes of a future career in science. Just as the symbolic growth of these sprouts show promise for interesting results, the students in this study hope to be a part of this until the end. Please follow us as we continue to provide updates on this growth study here on “Students for A Smarter Planet.”

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At the University of South Florida in Tampa, Environmental Engineering students are hard at work devising and testing out possible methods for fertilizer production. With new ways of fertilizer production found, the best way to see if a special kind of fertilizer works is to test it out. A lot of diverse elements and skills need to be pulled together. Engaging in this initiative are the following people:

Sarina Ergas, PhD – Supervisor and professor upon whom the entire initiative depends on for essential guidance and approval.

Veronica Aponte – Graduate student in Environmental Engineering. She is a co-investigator, and she is also researching new ways to make fertilizer. The results of the growth study will help determine the effectiveness of the new fertilizers being made on USF campus.

Adib Amini – Graduate student in Environmental Engineering. He is a co-investigator, and he is also researching new ways to make fertilizer. The results of the growth study will help determine the effectiveness of the new fertilizers being made on USF campus.

John Pilz – Undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Policy. This is his Senior Project that he is working on with intentions of learning more about fertilizer studies in the university research setting.

Lindsay Guntner – Wharton High School teacher serving as an investigator and mentor for her high school pupils. She serving so that high school students will be able to get exposure to scientific work from an earlier age. This is her first year pioneering this project with USF.

Andres Garcia – High school student, mentored by Lindsay Guntner, from Wharton High School. He is serving at the University of South Florida to obtain guidance from students and staff with the intentions of continuing the work for his science fair and other scientific pursuits. This is a valuable opportunity for him to see how group work and procedure is carried out with the scientific method always in mind.

So, with starting a growth study to examine the effects of the fertilizers in mind, the project needs to get started. While all the logistics need to be determined, some of the time intensive aspects need to be implemented in parallel to the procedural decisions about what amounts of fertilizers and tests need to be included. With quantity alone being a tough issue, the decision as to how to carry out each test poses itself to be another challenge entirely.

A first step in beginning the project -

First thing was first – a growth study needs space, so that was the first priority. Space was found at a greenhouse, and a spot needed to be created to hold the large amount of dirt needed for this project. With that said, a space was selected by the greenhouse to be cleared, and supplies were found. All the weeds and vegetation were then cleared away.



After clearing a spot big enough to build on, we had to build the holding area for the dirt, so wooden pallets were found for the job. With a trip to the dumpster and the hardware store, the wood and nails were acquired to start construction.


Next came the construction of the holding area. With assistance from the staff in the Botanical Gardens at USF, a screw gun was also made available to make the securing of the wooden parts longer lasting. After the structure was finished, tarp was placed on the bottom and the sides to prevent the topsoil from spilling out of the allotted space. The tarp was firmly secured with a stapling gun also made available thanks to the staff at the Botanical Gardens.




After the construction of the holding area, the dirt was brought over from Cypress Creek Landscaping. When the truck arrived, it was carefully backed in so that the dirt could be properly dumped to be used for the 100+ pots we plan to use for the growth study. The company was gladly able to throw in around 75 pots for free, knowing that they will all be put to good use.




With the fertilizer, the pots, the dirt and the space found, there still is yet more to be done. This start is just one step in the right direction. Now the greenhouse needs to be set up to finally commence the growth study. With this low-nutrient dirt, all the fertilizer that we add will be the only nutrients going to the plants. Let’s hope that we get some interesting results!

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aeclogoWe are excited to announce that we have selected the three teams that will be advancing to the build phase of the competition! Each team submitted a detailed proposal outlining the details of their design including proof of need, expected efficiency, cost, and a construction timeline for their device. The three teams we selected and their corresponding projects are:

Team RAJ: A Peltier Thermoelectric Generator for Recreational Use

Team Gurlz: A Wind and Solar-powered Patio Umbrella

The Dream Team: Solar-powered Hydroponics

Each team will receive $300 to build a prototype of their design. They will have until May 1st to complete their builds where they will then present their designs to a panel of faculty and corporate judges. Judging criteria includes: efficiency, applicability, innovation, and creativity. We are very excited to see the results and  we will provide more updates as the build phase progresses!

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February 26th, 2014

Hello IBM, thank you so much for accepting us into the Students for a Smarter Planet Program! Our team is very excited to join all of the other incredible teams on this website.

My name is Josh, and I am the financial team leader for Apparatus X, an adaptable tool trailer capable of expanding into a workspace, creating a mobile construction site that could be relocated to the site of a natural disaster. Our team is composed of about twenty Architecture and Engineering students at The Pennsylvania State University. We hope to complete the project by the end of this semester, after which it will travel to the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans. Once it arrives, it must expand into a full workspace, storing a wide variety of tools. The trailer will act as a community workspace, facilitating the engagement and education necessary to rebuild a damaged area. The trailer will also be entirely self-sustainable, generating its own power with an array of solar panels on its roof, and using a rainwater collection and purification system to sustainably and efficiently provide water. This system also serves a didactic purpose, demonstrating the possibility to live a green lifestyle. Finally, the trailer must also serve as a micro-living unit, supporting a single resident. The image below shows Apparatus X after it has fully deployed, exhibiting its expandability and multiple work areas.



Apparatus X is divided into three equal sections, displayed in the image below. The first section is the live space, which will contain a kitchen, bathroom, and bed for the resident of the vehicle. The next section is the flex and design space, which will provide a social area for collaborative design. The final area is a work area that provides work surfaces as well as storage space for tools.



Thank you again for accepting us into your program! We are very excited to post updates on our progress, and learn about the projects that all of the other teams are working on!

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