During the week of 15-19 June, the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology (CEAT), at The Australian National University, in partnership with The University of Canberra’s Centre for Applied Water Science (CAWS), Bridge Hub, CSIRO and Charles Sturt University, with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) as a delivery partner ran the ‘H2O Hack: technology to drought-proof the agrifood sector’ online hackathon to help stimulate and develop solutions to address Australia’s water shortage.
The event was a huge success, with 12 teams entering from across Australia, as well as overseas. Innovative ideas ranging from using groundwater in more effective ways, to using certain plant species to maintain soil moisture emerged throughout the week. The H2O Hack attracted participants with expertise in areas including synthetic biology, electrical and communications systems, water policy and engineering. The breadth of participants’ expertise highlights the ways in which inter-disciplinary collaboration can help unlock solutions to wicked problems. Fostering collaboration across disciplinary silos is at the heart of what CEAT does, and we are pleased to see this approach employed effectively to tackle such a major problem in Australian agriculture.
Read on for some firsthand accounts from participating teams!
AquaporInSolutions for a water smart agrifood sector
The H2O hackathon was an intense, challenging and rewarding week. The problem statements of the innovation challenge addressed major water-security concerns around maintaining high agricultural productivity whilst optimising water usage and reducing environmental impacts from agriculture.
Our team, AquaporInSolutions, consisted of two postdoctoral research scientists, Samantha McGaughey and Annamaria De Rosa, and three undergraduate research students, Thomas Wang, Angela Patajo and Yilan Yu, from the Australian National University. Our team aimed to address nitrogen pollution in waterways using filtration membranes inspired by those found in plants. The H2O Hackathon was an amazing opportunity for us to think about our research in a new context.
We were encouraged to reach out to different stakeholders in the agricultural sector to first identify their problems before proposing our solution. The mentor sessions were incredibly valuable in pushing us to tease apart the identified problems, to determine how our technology could be applied, and reconsider our ideas; ultimately this helped us evolve and refine our product.
We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the H2O Hackathon and even more so to have won it. Regardless of the outcome we are proud of what we achieved throughout the week and the new skills we learnt.
Written by Annamaria De Rosa and Samantha McGaughey, ANU.
Water scarcity is a reality across the world, and agriculture as a field uses more that 70% of the fresh water available on the earth. It is imperative that we find innovative solutions to make water usage efficient in this field. This is why we wanted to participate in the H2O Hackathon.
The week consisted of a total of 96 exhilarating hours from problem to solution, including around 10 hours of workshops, 4 hours of mentor sessions, with 12 teams and over 50 participants.
For us at Team GramworkX, it was a great opportunity to meet members from a multitude of backgrounds including research, agri start-ups and government institutes. Despite being on the other side of the world in India, we felt like we were in the same room thanks to the technology used and the thought put into using it by the event facilitators.
It was truly exciting to be part of this event, and we are grateful to the organisers and mentors for their great insights and timely feedback!
Written by Supriya Ananthakrishnan, Team GramworkX
Dr. Tona Sanchez-Palacios, Team AgroChemistry
Tona is a postdoctoral research fellow working in the Centre for Applied Water Science (CAWS) at the University of Canberra (UC).
Tona comes from Mexico, where corn was domesticated more than 8,700 years ago. Growing up in farmland he has always appreciated the importance of water and cultivating food.
Writing about issues of water scarcity, Tona says ‘Water quality and land degradation are the biggest challenges of current and future generations. In Canberra there is a great interest to develop ideas and strategies to improve the efficiency of water used in agriculture and industry. The 2020 H2O Hack provided the perfect platform to establish networks with research, technology and entrepreneurial institutions. It is only through interdisciplinary skills that we will be best prepared for future challenges in agriculture. Participating at the Hackathon allowed me to meet the people working on solutions to management our water resources more effectively. The best way to get motivated is to work with people committed to resolve the current and future challenges.’
Written by Dr. Tona Sanchez-Palacios from AgroChemistry.
And the winners are . . .
The judges had a difficult decision to make, as each team approached the problem from a unique and thoughtful angle. First prize was presented to the Aquaporin Solutions team from The Australian National University. Their proposal addressed reducing nitrogen pollution in waterways using artificial filtration membranes similar to those which exist in plants. This solution draws on recent research in synthetic biology, and potentially has a host of valuable real-world applications.
Team CNT Solutions won not only the ‘Crowd Choice Award’ but also scored second prize! Their solution entailed the development of an app to allow users to track how much water is used in the production of food products they consume on a daily basis, enabling them to make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
The H2O Hack is finished – what’s next?
Following the hackathon, highly-ranked teams will now have the opportunity to access an incubation program at CBRIN, attend CEAT ANU and UC CAWS-mediated workshops, enabling them to develop connections with researchers and industry, and participate in the CEAT Innovation Hub. This will give them the opportunity to commercialise their products, and start making them available to the wider agrifood and agricultural community.
Participants from the H2O Hack can also continue developing their innovations by joining in the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge. The event will launch on 29 June, 2020, and like the hack, aims to find real solutions to water problems. It will seek to respond to some of the most pressing practical problems in water, and importantly it will help commercialise promising research, start-up ideas and new technology that will allow the agrifood sector to use water more efficiently. The Water Challenge also offers an A$25,000 prize and the opportunity for commercialisation.