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Students in EPA Contest in DC

May 12, 2005 — A team of eight University of Utah students and 11 students from a Utah science high school will travel to Washington as finalists in a May 16-17 Environmental Protection Agency contest aimed at promoting sustainable resources, including energy.

The Utah team’s entry – a photovoltaic cell designed to use sunlight to produce hydrogen gas to power a model vehicle – will be pitted against entries from 64 other teams during the P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Award contest on the National Mall on Monday May 16 and Tuesday May 17.

The team includes eight University of Utah students from a chemical engineering class, and 11 students who attend the Academy for Math Engineering and Science (AMES), a science-oriented charter high school located on the campus of Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah.

They will be accompanied by project leader Keith Roper, a University of Utah assistant professor of chemical engineering, and by AMES administrators Al Church and Marjorie Tuckett.

“I’m proud of the students, excited about what we developed and looking forward to contributing sustainable hydrogen energy to the Salt Lake City area,” Roper says.

Each of the 65 teams in the finals won a $10,000 grant last August to develop their projects. About 200 teams had applied, Roper says. Six teams named winners of the final competition each will get another grant of up to $75,000 to further develop their project, he adds.

The entries will be judged by a panel convened by the National Academies, the parent organization of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

Students on the Utah team “created a photovoltaic panel to capture sunlight and use it to split water into oxygen and hydrogen,” says Roper. “They created a system that purifies and stores the hydrogen for use in a fuel cell. A hydrogen fuel cell would combine the hydrogen with oxygen from air to produce water and electricity.”

If the Utah team is among the six winners, the students’ next step will be to couple their hydrogen-producing device with a fuel cell and use it to power a small model car. The device now produces only 10 watts of power – one-tenth of a 100-watt light bulb – so increasing the power output would come later, Roper says.

The EPA says it launched the P3 Award “to respond to the technical needs of the developed and developing world in moving toward sustainability. This national competition enables college students to research, develop and design scientific, technical and policy solutions to sustainability challenges. Their designs will help achieve the mutual goals of economic prosperity while providing a higher quality of life and protecting the planet.”

Most students making the trip to Washington are leaving between Friday May 13 and Sunday May 15, and most will return May 19. The students also created a website showcasing their work at

University of Utah students on the team are Todd Sherman, Matthew Hickenlooper, Stan Holbrook, Kara Stowers, Trina Sudweeks, James Ambrosek, William Chatwin and Will Felt. Most are chemical engineering students, except for Sherman (architecture), Chatwin (technology assessment) and Felt (electrical engineering).

AMES students on the team are David Archer, Jessica Court, Emily Dishong, Alexander Engar, Bethany Lane, Karli Martin, Joshua Moreno, Ziggy Palauni, Megi Rexhepaj, Taylor Schofield and Kelly Villacorta.

The University of Utah students working on the project were taking a chemical engineering course that also was a “service learning” course sponsored by the university’s Bennion Community Service Center, which organizes classes aimed at promoting lifelong service to the community.

The Bennion Center provided a teaching assistant and paid for supplies and materials, while the cost of the trip to Washington is being supported by JetBlue Airways, the university’s Department of Chemical Engineering, and supporters of AMES.

More information on the P3 Award may be found at