Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
Updates on current projects

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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IBM announced today that the Victoria University of Wellington, on behalf of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) Consortium, has selected IBM systems technology to help scientists probe the origins of the universe.


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The result of an international collaboration between 13 institutions from Australia, New Zealand, U.S. and India, the MWA is a new type of radio telescope designed to capture low frequency radio waves from deep space as well as the volatile atmospheric conditions of the Sun. The signals will be captured by the telescope’s 4,096 dipole antennas positioned in the Australian Outback in a continuous stream and processed by an IBM iDataPlex dx360 M3 computing cluster that will convert the radio waves into wide-field images of the sky that are unprecedented in clarity and detail.

The IBM iDataPlex cluster replaces MWA’s existing custom-made hardware systems and will enable greater flexibility and increased signal processing. The cluster is expected to process approximately 50 terabytes of data per day at full data rate at a speed of 8 gigabytes per second, the equivalent to over 2,000 digital songs per second, allowing scientists to study more of the sky faster than ever before, and with greater detail.

“The MWA project is dependent on the massive computer power offered by IBM’s iDataPlex to create real-time wide-field images of the radio sky,” said Professor Steven Tingay, MWA Project Director from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University in Perth. “The combination of the MWA, IBM technology and the radio-quiet environment of the Murchison will allow us to search for the incredibly weak signals that come from the early stages in the evolution of the Universe, some 13 billion years ago.”

The ultimate goal of the revolutionary $51 million MWA telescope is to observe the early Universe, when stars and galaxies were first born. By detecting and studying the weak radio signals emitted from when the Universe consisted of only a dark void of Hydrogen gas – the cosmic Dark Age – scientists hope to understand how stars, planets and galaxies were formed. The telescope will also be used by scientists to study the sun’s heliosphere during periods of strong solar activity and time-varying astronomical objects such as pulsars.

“Victoria University was delighted to work with the IBM team to find a solution for the compute challenges of the MWA,” said Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, Senior Lecturer in Physics, Victoria University of Wellington.  “The IBM iDataPlex cluster provides an elegant resource to handle the processing and imaging requirements of the telescope, allowing us to do cutting-edge radio astronomy.”

“IBM is delighted to have been selected by the MWA consortium in this significant global scientific endeavour,” said Glenn Wightwick, Chief Technologist, IBM Australia. “’High performance processing capabilities are essential to facilitating world-class science. The IBM iDataPlex cluster will be used to digitally process incoming signals and produce image data in a standard astronomical format, ready for use by scientists.”

The IBM iDataPlex cluster will be housed on-site in the Murchison Radio Observatory (MRO) site around 700 km north of Perth, near the radio telescope antennas. With a 10 Gbps communications link to Perth, it will allow the images to be transferred and stored and made available for research. The MRO site will also be the Australian location for a significant portion of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope and is being co-hosted by Australia and South Africa.

The MWA project is led by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University and is one of three SKA precursor telescopes.

For more information MWA, please visit:

For more information on IBM iDataplex, please visit:

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