Inaugural Humanitarian Materials Awards announced at Materials Day

A filter to clean water using the seeds of the Moringa tree was one of three winning proposals for the inaugural Humanitarian Materials Awards. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The winners of the first annual MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative awards, sponsored by Covestro LLC (formerly Bayer MaterialScience LLC) and the Materials Research Institute (MRI), were announced at Materials Day 2015 on the University Park campus.

The MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative seeks to support ongoing research that is aimed at providing long-term and sustainable solutions to problems in under resourced regions of the world. By bringing world-class materials science and engineering expertise to bear on such issues as materials for clean water and sanitation in remote areas; materials for small-scale, clean electricity generation and storage; low-cost durable and functional shelters; and point-of-care medical technologies, the Penn State Materials Research Institute hopes to attract visionary faculty and students with an interest in transitioning materials technologies to contribute to these real-world issues.

Thirteen faculty-led teams submitted proposals and three winners were chosen.

• “Moringa-coated sand filters as a sustainable solution to clean water” is a project led by Stephanie Velegol, instructor in civil and environmental engineering, Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Michael Erdman, director of Engineering Leadership Development in the College of Engineering, and Bashir Yusuf of Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria. This ongoing project hopes to improve on the water purifying capability of the seed of the Moringa tree, which grows in equatorial regions around the globe, and can be used as a natural antimicrobial to help clean dirty water. The inventors will use the $15,000 prize to fund four students, undergraduate and graduate, to do research toward improving the Moringa-coated sand filter and for travel to Nigeria to test the training of local residents in the technology. It is estimated that one billion people around the world lack access to clean water.

• “Thermal stabilization of vaccines for the developing world” proposed by Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, and including two undergraduate students, would seek to prove the ability to stabilize and preserve biologically active agents used in vaccines, focusing on heat-stable rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus is a cause of severe diarrhea responsible for the deaths of 600, 000 infants and young children each year in developing countries. Based on a novel material, they proposed to obtain superior thermal and mechanical properties in hot and wet environments. The award will provide for viral stabilization research and field testing.

• “Guatemala roofing panels made from recycled PET,” by Jason Williams, head of the Medical Plastics Center of Excellence, and Jonathan Meckley, chair of Plastics Engineering Technology at Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering. This project would use shredded plastic water and soda bottles to make inexpensive roofing to replace worn out corrugated metal roofing in remote villages in Guatemala. The goal is to create and test a molding process that can be used by the villagers to create their own plastic roofing panels on site. They will design and test an oven capable of using common biomass available nearby, and create procedures for sintering the plastic that will minimize the risk of undersintered panels.

All of the awards are meant to support undergraduate or graduate researchers and potentially lead to further federal or philanthropic funding.

MRI Director Clive Randall said, “Our initial call for proposals attracted a strong field of candidates, with many more worthy projects than we could fund at this time. We thank Covestro for their generous support. In the future we want to continue and expand on the program. If other corporate sponsors wish to learn more about the MRI Humanitarian Materials Initiative, please contact me or our Industry Relations Manager Dave Fecko.”

About Covestro LLC:
Covestro LLC is one of the leading producers of high-performance polymers in North America and is part of the global Covestro business. Covestro manufactures high-tech polymer materials and develops innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and sports and leisure industries. The Covestro group has 30 production sites around the globe and employed approximately 14,200 people at the end of 2014. Covestro is a Bayer Group company.

Last Updated July 29, 2017