Four FC Engineering students are set to present their proposal concerning sustainability and the reduction of carbon emissions to the United Nations in New York City.
Ian Kolaja, Tina Cao, Katherine Vega and Brent Hamilton, collectively known as Aeolus’s Breath, competed in a MIT SOLVE Project that posed the question, “How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions?”
With over 600 votes from the public, the team’s proposal solidified its position at first place ahead of 11 other finalists out of 127 different solutions from global competitors.
Their proposal, “Direct Methane Conversion-Changing Emissions to Graphene and Hydrogen Fuel,” is designed to “prevent potent carbon emissions, employing hands-off, low-cost technology to produce profitable yields while reducing methane output.”
The team wanted to highlight the appeal of the sustainability and economic benefits such as job creation.
The students along with chemistry professor Bridget Salzameda and physics professor Brian Shotwell will be flying to New York to attend the MIT SOLVE Live Pitch Event on Tuesday, March 7 at the U.N.
The team will speak to a panel of expert judges, professionals and a live audience.
Among the judges will be Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations and CEOs and presidents of various prestigious companies around the globe.
The judges’ picks will be dubbed “Solvers,” and those who receive continued support will join other Solve community members for the annual flagship event scheduled for May 8 through the 10, 2017, at MIT.
The collaboration began when Vega, an engineering physics major who also studied political science at UC Berkeley, and Hamilton, an Army veteran and mechanical engineering major, started working on NASA’s Microgravity challenge the previous semester.
The two met Cao, a computer science and engineering major, who then introduced them to Kolaja, a nuclear engineering and physics major, who discovered the MIT competition through casually stumbling upon a Facebook advertisement.
“Ideas started flowing and within about 10 to 15 minutes we had a solid concept that we wanted to explore,” Hamilton said.
Kolaja and Cao also demonstrated their high interest in NASA opportunities, specifically the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar program.
The team officially formed in early December during the winter break, devoting all of of their time in preparation before the Jan. 20 deadline.
“The brainstorming process is a very collective one,” Vega stated, “it’s really nice how we worked together and just shoot out ideas, with no hard feelings, just constantly sharpening each other’s ideas.”
“It honestly didn’t feel like work because of the fact that [the project] was so fun,” Cao added.
After several weeks of drafting and revision by multiple mentors and professors, Aeolus’s Breath’s proposal joined ten others as finalists to be presented at the U.N. headquarters.
Vega was astonished when she heard about the team’s acceptance.
“I would’ve never really believed we would go to the U.N.,” she said, “Some of the other finalists have PhD’s, or starting companies or are from prestigious universities. It took a few days take in.”
“Because I believed that we had a great group dynamic,” Cao added, “I thought we would be able to do so much if we were to be selected.”
Their advisors’ initial reaction to hearing the team’s acceptance to present was also met with enthusiasm.
“I shared the anticipation the team had,” Salzameda said, “On Feb. 9 around 3 p.m. I received the email I was anticipating for weeks. I could feel Tina’s immeasurable excitement through the email.”
Professor Shotwell was initially not surprised by the news, but it later grew on him.
“I didn’t fully realize the impact of it at first,” Shotwell stated, “It took a few weeks for it to dawn on me how selective the process was.”
Their advisors also sought to highlight the student’s drive and motivation by emphasizing the students’ initiative towards the project.
“There was really a lot of originality and creativity in the proposal,” Shotwell added, “Their set of skills and different personalities nicely complemented each other. They were able to approach each problem from several different angles.”
Vega dedicated her inspiration to her own teammates, while Cao displayed her admiration for their advisor, Salzameda.
“She gave us the reliable, critical research in order for us to confirm our data to actually have the proposal,” Cao said.
“When you have advisors that are working that much to help you, there is the sense that you can’t let them down,” Kolaja added.
Salzameda provided her words and insight in encouraging future students that could achieve a feat such as this.
“Our STEM students at Fullerton College are inspirational to me, and I would like to convey to them, that the administration, faculty and staff do offer generous support and encouragement, especially if students take the initiative and reach out,” Salzameda said.
Vega encourages future students to “stay curious,” revealing that her “curiosity and persistence kept [her] going.”
“Don’t be afraid to do your own thing,” Kolaja concluded, “Because STEM courses can be so demanding, it’s easy to just focus on what you’re doing in class, keeping up whatever GPA you want. The best experiences in science are the ones you pursue yourself.”
Hamilton believes “there are problems in the world and a few people take initiative to tackle those problems.”
To support Aeolus’s Breath in their finances for their U.N. trip, visit their Go Fund Me page.
For more information about MIT Solve, visit their website.