April 7, 2022

Student innovators pitch solutions for data gaps, e-waste, transit improvements, and more

UCalgary winners announced after last local round of World’s Challenge Challenge; Data Donors team heads to finals
World's Challenge Challenge

Addressing everything from social equity to pollution, the World’s Challenge Challenge (WCC) asks students to think big and come up with an idea to make our world a better place. Globally minded leaders joined interdisciplinary teams to develop and pitch solutions to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This year, 36 UCalgary students participated in the challenge.

The top six teams were invited to the UCalgary WCC final pitch competition, held virtually on March 8, 2022. Judges representing the Office of Sustainability, Hunter Hub, prior successful competition winners and University of Calgary International had the difficult task of selecting the top three UCalgary teams, as well as the one team that will represent UCalgary at the Global Finals this year.

Chantal Vogel

Kinesiology undergraduate student Chantal Vogel's Data Donors pitch took first place in the competition.

Using donations to make mobile data accessible to everyone

First place went to Data Donors. Team member Margaret Hornett is an undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Music degree program and Chantal Vogel is an undergraduate student in the Faculty of Kinesiology.

The global issue the Data Donors team hopes to address is access to mobile data. Around 900,000 Canadians currently do not have access to the online world due to lack of data. They are looking to make data accessible to everyone through data donations.

“I chose to sign up to compete while working at the study abroad office. I saw a lot of information on the pitch competition and how it was meant to help improve the world. I skimmed through the list of ideas for what participants could focus on and saw several topics that were related to struggles I had personally experienced, being from a low-income household,” says Vogel. “We chose to focus on data and internet access which falls under SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. We chose this goal because as university students, especially with recently attending online classes due to the pandemic, we understood how detrimental it can be to not have reliable data access in a technology-focused society.”

Margaret Hornett

Music student Margaret Hornett is also on the Data Donor's team that took first place.

“The WCC has been a great experience so far-especially being able to pitch our idea to a diverse panel of judges. It has been fun to work together on creating this solution, and we are hopeful that we will be able to implement it in the future. Knowing that we, as university students, have an idea that could help so many people in our country is really amazing!” says Hornett. “In preparation for the finals, we will be meeting with our mentor to discuss pitch presentation ideas, and are going to watch the winning presentations from previous years, and take note of the areas we can improve on. Hopefully, with a little bit of hard work, we can achieve our goal of implementation.”

A biological approach to e-waste

Neocycle placed second and is also a semi-finalist in another prestigious global challenge, the 2022 Wege Prize. Their team includes Arshia Mostoufi, Faculty of Science; Subasthika Thangadurai, Faculty of Science; Rigel Tormon, Schulich School of Engineering; and Anika Zaman, Faculty of Science.

They take a molecular biology approach to Rare Earth Elements (REE) extraction and purification from e-waste. Currently, 95 per cent of REE come from mining where complicated extraction processes result in both costly operations and environmental damage. Most countries are unable to secure a domestic source of these elements and that results in a volatile and monopolistic supply chain. Electronic waste is the fastest growing solid waste stream, with more than 54 million tonnes of waste produced in 2020 alone. Only 1 per cent of e-waste is recycled properly, resulting in an annual loss of over $47 billion in raw materials. REE in laptops and catalytic converters are recycled and captured in a novel and sustainable synthetic biology approach for circular element extraction, recovery and usage.

Real-time bus hailing for flexible bus routing

Third place went to On Demand Transit (ODT) from Amanda Bishop, a graduate student studying geography, and Ali Siddiqi, an undergraduate student studying software engineering. ODT is a real-time bus-hailing software that provides flexible bus routing options based on rider demand. The technology optimizes public transit operations and rider experiences with advanced data analytics enabled by artificial intelligence. ODT presents a promising technological approach to increasing the long-term safety, affordability, and access of public transit services for chronically underserved communities. Their team examined ODT models and technology implementation strategies for resilient transit services in Calgary.

Growing global learning

“UCalgary is always happy to take part in this competition. Intercultural capacity skill development is achieved through competition-based global learning programs like WCC and it represents an important facet of our global learning at home offerings,” says Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (international). “We are proud and inspired by all the teams and their innovative ideas. I want to wish Data Donors the best of luck and let them know they have the support of the entire campus as they move on and represent UCalgary at the WCC Global Finals.”

The WCC global finals are taking place virtually this year, hosted by Western University June 6-10. Teams compete for a top prize of $30,000. Finalists have an opportunity to participate in virtual academic events, generate further discussion around global issues, and network with some of the best and brightest students from around the world. For more information on the competition, please visit World's Challenge Challenge.