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UCF STEM Students Granted a Full-Ride to Science and Engineering Festival

A team of science and engineering students from the University of Central Florida have developed a concept for a high-tech sponge that is gaining national attention.

The students traveled to Washington D.C. last month to show off their creation at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

Comprised of all STEM majors, the UCF team created a cost-effective, efficient and environmentally-friendly way to clean up oil spills. They were awarded a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to present their exhibit in phase I of the national student design competition.

So what exactly is a high-tech sponge? The purpose of the hydrophobic 2D molybdenum disulfide (MDSOS) sponge is to assist with cleaning up oil spills in a green way. It was designed to soak up the oil from the ocean, repelling water in the process. Since no chemicals are used for the clean up, no water pollution is left behind. The oil that is collected can then be reused for other purposes, making the prototype extremely efficient.

For team member and biotechnology major, Dianne Mercado, joining the team was a no brainer. She wanted to be a part of something that had an impact.

“It was my first ever project in this research group and I loved it,” she says. “I wanted to support innovative answers to real-world problems.”

Mercado, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Florida when she was just 10, is a big proponent for STEM majors. She loved having the opportunity to reach out to younger students who are interested in medicine and STEM programs during the competition.

“Not only could we meet other competing teams and people from EPA, NASA, Lockheed, and other big names, we were able to reach out to and inspire K-12 students who were interested in the STEAM fields,” she says.

Moving forward, the UCF team is hoping to get the Phase 2 grant as well, which would provide them $75,000 to advance their research. Dr. Woo Hyoungg Lee, P.E. oversaw the research group and is excited about the possibility of Phase 2. He’s hoping this grant will enable the team to commercialize their creation.

“We can demonstrate our prototype more and show a newer, nicer prototype at that time,” Lee says. “I’m excited about this team.”

Other team members include a range of students from different majors such as environmental engineering and biomedical sciences. They are all working together for a more sustainable world.

“The team and the project itself truly reflect the spirit of UCF, with people from many different backgrounds and majors coming together to create a novel interdisciplinary answer to a major problem,” Mercado says. “I still can’t believe how far the team has come since the Phase I proposal, and I can’t wait to see where we can go in the future.”


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