Denver: “Innovation in the water” — Clean River Design Challenge recap

Student showcase their winning design at a recent Board of Trustees meeting. Photo: Mark Stahl

From Metropolitan State University of Denver (Matt Watson):

Sometimes putting plastic in the river can be a good thing.

That was the idea put forth by the MSU Trash Getters, one of eight student teams from the Colorado School of Mines, MSU Denver and the University of Colorado Denver to participate in the Clean River Design Challenge.

The Trash Getters designed 3D-printed fish heads to float atop a waterway and collect trash in their mouths. The brightly colored bits of plastic, printed on campus at the Auraria Library, sit in the water and call attention to the very problem the design challenge hopes to combat: trash in our water.

The Greenway Foundation, a nonprofit helmed by Executive Director and MSU Denver Trustee Jeff Shoemaker, works to advance the South Platte River and surrounding tributaries as a unique environmental, recreational, cultural, scientific and historical amenity that links Denver’s past and its future. The foundation held its first-ever student design challenge in 2015-16 and a second competition in 2017-18. The competition is coordinated and led by TGF’s policy and water-resources arm, the Water Connection (TWC).

“The basis of this is to continue to bring awareness that trash in my neighborhood is trash in my waterways,” Shoemaker said. “That’s the education aspect; the other, more pragmatic aspect is we’re trying to create devices that can be taken from a scale version, put into a working prototype and actually be placed in Cherry Creek or the South Platte River.”

MSU Denver faculty, staff and community members pitch in to clean up the Cherry Creek as part of the recent Roadrunners Give Back Day in partnership with the Greenway Foundation.

The student teams were scored in Round 1 on their trash-collection designs in December, with two teams from Mines placing first and third and an MSU Denver team second. The teams with the top six designs were given $1,000 to build scale models, which were then put to the test for Round 2 in April in a flume at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In addition to educating people and looking for innovative solutions, the design challenge provides students with hands-on, competitive experience.

“For students to spend a semester coming up with a concept, then have to stand up in front of a dozen working professionals in the world of water and defend their model – in a competitive way, where there are actually winners and losers – is a very valuable experience,” Shoemaker said.

In the BOR Hydraulics Lab testing, which was Round 2 of the competition, MSU Denver students shined. The first-place team was the Water Association of Student Steward Urban Program, the student water-education club associated with the One World One Water Center. The Trash Getters’ fish-head design finished third behind the Colorado School of Mines, which took second.

The top three models will be displayed July 26 at the 15th annual Reception on the River, where students will get a chance to network with more than 200 people from the water industry. The hope is that one of the models, or a combination of them, will work its way into the water in the coming years. TGF/TWC just got the first draft of professional engineering drawings based on the 2015-16 contest winner and will develop a prototype in the coming months for planned testing in Cherry Creek .

The water-cleanup efforts at the Greenway Foundation and MSU Denver aren’t limited to design and engineering, either. Foundation volunteers regularly pick up trash from Denver waterways, while the WASSUP club has adopted a section of Cherry Creek for a monthly cleanup project and University faculty, staff and students partnered with the Greenway Foundation as part of Roadrunners Give Back Day.

To learn more about Denver’s waterways, contact the Greenway Foundation at info@greenwayfoundation.org.

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