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Two Westwood students are working together to save Lake Winnipeg.
Bentley Turner, a Westwood Collegiate graduate, and Meagan Smith, a University of Manitoba undergrad, are finalists in the 2020 Lake Winnipeg AquaHacking Challenge. Hosted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the competition brings together scientists and engineers from around the city, who pitch technological solutions to improve the health of Lake Winnipeg.
Turner and Smith’s team is called LasIR Nutrient Technology. They’re pitching a new way to test soil samples, allowing farmers to access data on their land in a cheaper, more efficient way. By making soil sampling more accessible, farmers can detect increased phosphate in their land and grow crops elsewhere.
Turner and Smith were nervous. They didn’t know how their pitch would stack up to the competition.
"Going into the (semifinals), we saw a lot of (people with) PhDs, masters students, who were already working in their respective fields of study," Turner said. "It was frightening. I think we did a really good job, I’m pretty proud of how far we’ve come."
"We were the youngest team there. We didn’t go in expecting we’ll win this. For us, it’s a great opportunity for us to learn and gain some experience," Smith said. "If we can do that, while helping (save the lake), why not give it a go?"
Both recent grads from Westwood, Smith just finished her first year in the faculty of science, while Turner is expected to start university next semester. Although they considered the competition a learning experience, they’re working to hone their pitch before their final presentation.
The AquaHacking Challenge aims to support young students and professionals with mentorship and resources to improve Lake Winnipeg. The challenge began with webinars from experts, who helped the participants hone their proposals. Turner and Smith made their initial pitch in June to a panel of experts.
They’ll be fine-tuning their pitch with the help of those experts. The final round of pitches will take place on Oct. 14 over Facebook Live.
LasIR Nutrient Technology aims to prevent phosphate from entering Lake Winnipeg through farming. As of 2019, Manitoba’s farming industry has been working to lessen their impact on the environment, reducing the phosphate going into the ecosystem to around two per cent.
Typically, phosphate enters the water system through human and animal waste, phosphorus-rich bedrock, laundry, cleaning, industrial effluents and fertilizer runoff. Too much phospate causes algae blooms to grow, which harms the flora and fauna in the ecosystem.
Although the number is low, Turner said it still has a big impact on the ecosystem.
"In our pitch, the point is this: A small value is not insignificant. Even though it seems like it’s small, it needs to go down more. We’re still getting massive algae blooms in (Lake Winnipeg)," Turner said. "It impacts the whole ecosystem’s health … Also, fishing and tourism are a massive part of Manitoba’s economy. As algae blooms increase, those sectors will be severely impacted."
LasIR Nutrient Technology aims to test soil samples in a cheaper and more efficient manner. By using ATR infrared spectroscopy techniques, the tool is able to test multiple samples simultaneously without the use of reagents. Typically, a farmer would test a small part of their soil, pay to send it to a lab, wait for the results, then make assumptions based on that small sample.
This tool would eliminate the need for lab testing. Farmers can test multiple soil samples on-site, finding out their results at a lower cost. By making this information more accessible, a farmer can take whatever steps are necessary to keep the environment safe.
For more information, visit iisd.org
Community journalist — The Metro
Justin Luschinski is the community journalist for The Metro. Email him at email@example.com
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