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Indian and New Zealand students collaborate to tackle Sustainable Development Goals

The winning team in the sustainability challenge looks forward to an all-expenses-paid three-week internship at three participating universities in New Zealand early next year.
BY Uma Asher |   08-12-2017
Winner Team for New Zealand India Sustainability Challenge- Team VaxiBead, Manipal
From left, Mr John Laxon of Education New Zealand, Manipal Institute of Technology Chief Innovation Officer Arun Shanbagh (mentor of Team VaxiBead), University of Canterbury student Nicholas Steyn, Manipal Institute of Technology students Dhruv Suri and Saisri Akondi, and New Zealand High Commissioner to India Joanna Kempkers

Thursday, December 7, 2017, was a thrilling day for Dhruv Suri and Saisri Akondi, who study Aeronautical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering respectively at the Manipal Institute of Technology, India, and Nicholas Steyn, a student of Financial Engineering and Statistics at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. The three students, who collectively go by the name Team VaxiBead, beat 89 other teams to win the New Zealand India Sustainability Challenge. The grand prize: a three-week internship in early 2018, at the three New Zealand partner universities: University of Canterbury, University of Otago, and University of Waikato. 

Team VaxiBead came up with the idea of adapting the Indian tradition of making babies wear nazariya beads to protect them from harm. Combined with cost-efficient NFC technology, a bead could double up as a repository of vaccination information that could communicate with a smartphone at a health center, and thus ensure up-to-date, safely backed up and easily retrievable immunization records. A common traditional practice could thus be adapted to scientifically and literally protect children from harm. The team reported that when they tested the innovation in Alevoor village, Karnataka, it was a hit with mothers. It is highly affordable and scaleable, and can even be adapted for use in New Zealand, where some segments of the population have lower immunization rates than the national average. The data generated from large-scale use could serve many purposes, including predictive analysis, the team members noted. Good health and well-being is No. 3 on the list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations.

1st Runner up team for New Zealand India Sustainability Challenge 2017- Team AplhaQ
From left, Mr John Laxon of ENZ, Abhiraksha P. and Arjun Aravind, students of Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, Chennai, their mentor Murugavel T. (head of the HSS Department at Sri Venkateswara College), University of Otago student George Coslett, and New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers

The first runner-up was Team AlphaQ, consisting of Abhiraksha P. and Arjun Aravind, both Computer Engineering students at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, Chennai, and George Coslett, a postgraduate student of Marketing Management at the University of Otago. They developed a video game designed to raise environmental awareness among children aged 6-14 years. Players start at the most basic level, which is ‘Home’, and work their way up to ‘Beach’ and then ‘Jungle’. At each stage they are required to build a positive relationship with the environment, and get in-game rewards for sustainable choices. The game is adaptable, and more localized levels can be added, for example ‘Delhi air pollution’, ‘Cleaning the Ganga’, or ‘Gulf oil spill’, the team members explained.

2nd Runner up team for New Zealand India Sustainability- Team Green Computing, Mumbai
From left, Mr John Laxon of ENZ, Ashwini Manjare and Payal Naik, students at Vidyalankar Institute of Technology, University of Otago student Lucy Patterson, New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers, and Team Green Computing mentor Dr Meenakshi S. Arya (professor at the Vidyalankar Institute of Technology)

The second runner-up was Team Green Computing, consisting of Payal Naik and Ashwini Manjare, both of whom are pursuing a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Information Technology at the Vidyalankar Institute of Technology, Mumbai, and Lucy Patterson, who is a Master’s student in Marketing Management at the University of Otago. They developed an application called Proxy Dreamer, in which a computer network can put terminals in sleep mode when they are not in use. This would substantially reduce the network’s carbon footprint, while ensuring that host machines do not break their internet connection.

Team Arth, consisting of IIT Delhi students Simranjit Singh (Production and Industrial Engineering) and Ashwin Garg (Biochemical and Biotech Engineering) and their New Zealand teammate Levi Farnum, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Engineering at the University of Waikato, developed cowdung-based logs as an alternative to firewood. These were tested successfully at Nigambodh Ghat, one of Delhi’s biggest crematoriums.

Team Blinking Blinds, consisting of Ayushi Tripathi and Renuka Wagh, both Textile Design students at the National Institution of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Mumbai, and their Kiwi teammate Sukhjit Pal Singh, a student of Chemical & Biological Engineering at the University of Waikato, developed a solution that turned broken solar panels – an environmental hazard – into a source of renewable energy. They designed window blinds that can be used to charge devices.

Team Alpha, consisting of Delhi University students Uday Kumar (Mathematics) and Shivansh Khanna (Economics), and Evie Wallace, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Canterbury, also combined waste management and renewable energy, by using biodegradable waste to generate cooking fuel.

Announced in June, the New Zealand India Sustainability Challenge was organized by Education New Zealand (ENZ), New Zealand’s government agency for international education, with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a Delhi-based think-tank for environmental issues, as its knowledge partner. The competition brought together Indian and New Zealand university students to tackle pressing sustainability challenges. Between August and November, the teams developed and tested scalable solutions, with the guidance of mentors in India and New Zealand.

In her welcome speech at Thursday’s finale in New Delhi, New Zealand High Commissioner to India Joanna Kempkers noted that her country had much in common with India, including language (Hindi is the fourth most commonly spoken language in New Zealand), a Commonwealth heritage, democratic values, and concerns about the global commons and the Indo-Pacific region. Welcoming the student teams, she said, “I hope you will continue your studies in New Zealand.”

Ms Kempkers said, “A sustainable world is the need of the hour. Through these steps, we aim to create awareness about a cleaner environment and use of sustainable resources amongst youth, which is something New Zealand as a country is very passionate about.”

Besides student presentations, Thursday’s event also included a panel discussion by experts on sustainable development. Panelist Dr Tim Markwell of the New Zealand High Commission underscored the value of the idealism of young people, saying that the cynicism of older generations often served to prevent them from attempting solutions.  Fellow panelist Ms Seema Bali, Vice Principal of St. Mary School, New Delhi, highlighted the need for a global awareness, saying “We can’t shine in our own corner – we have to contribute to the globe.” Panelist Dr Annapurna Vacheswaran, Senior Director for Communication Outreach at TERI, said, “When you think of a target, it should be unreachable… that’s when you get to be a leader.”

The panel was moderated by John Laxon, Education New Zealand’s Regional Director for India, Southeast Asia and Middle East. He noted that the number of Indian students entering New Zealand universities increased by 24% in 2017. He said: “Indian students choose a New Zealand education because it prepares students for global careers that positively change the world. New Zealand universities are leading innovators in our societies and demonstrating sustainable principles across their campuses.”

Mr Laxon described the challenge as “a world-leading initiative to promote sustainable thinking amongst our youth.” He added, “An internship at New Zealand’s universities, will offer Team VaxiBead – the winners from today, an opportunity to further their knowledge and gain New Zealand’s perspective on sustainability related disciplines.”

TERI Director General Dr Ajay Mathur said, “The New Zealand - India Sustainability Challenge is a unique opportunity to connect students from India and New Zealand to work towards real-life sustainability problems. I am confident that these students will continue to practice the elements of sustainability and innovation that they have learnt in future as well.”

 
 
 
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