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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Urban Water Design Challenge

The Mailman School of Public Health’s Urban Health Initiative is partnering with Columbia’s School of Engineering and the Columbia Global Center | Rio de Janeiro, on a design project centered on the multi-faceted challenges of urban water — one of the world’s most complex matters facing engineers, planners, and policy makers. At the launch of the Urban Water Design Challenge this month, leading researchers from the Mailman School, led by Dr. Gina Lovasi, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the current state of water in Rio de Janeiro, how it affects public health, and specific challenges for which policies could have an immediate impact. Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, exemplifies the problems faced by densely packed urban centers around the world in providing clean water and handling extreme weather.

[Photo: Dr. Gina Lovasi]

Top contending design teams will have just six weeks to develop deployable solutions that selected finalists may bring to Brazil. The goal is to produce a viable design concept to earn further support and develop a technology-centered innovation or policy change that could be presented in Rio next March.

“I was excited to see the wide range of creative ideas put forward at the initial pitch session after just one day,” said Dr. Lovasi, who is co-director of the Mailman School’s Urban Health Initiative. “The design challenge gets interdisciplinary teams focused on solutions innovation, and positions cross-disciplinary partnerships to positively impact the health of populations.”

Contaminated drinking water is a constant concern in Rio de Janeiro, and the water design challenge, while focusing on some of the water-related problems specific to Rio, addresses water challenges shared by many cities around the world.

This marks the second rapid-fire design challenge in which the Mailman School participated in partnership with the School of Engineering and other Columbia schools. Last fall, the partnership hosted the Ebola Design Challenge, which produced a number of real-time solutions to the Ebola crisis. One student team ultimately won support from USAID for their design challenge proposal, and has since been busy testing and developing their prototype, Highlight, a pigmented bleach solution that improves decontamination of infectious diseases.