Patrick Fuller recently won the Nitrate Capture System Challenge sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund.
I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University, collaboratively working on a variety of computational and experimental projects. This work ranges from green energy to catalysis, but all of my projects share one common goal: improving the global standard of living through the design of applied technology.
As an undergraduate at Lehigh University, I discovered my interest in creating “actionable” technology while researching improvements in orthopedic implants. The work in itself was very interesting, but I noticed that there was no infrastructure available to aid in converting successful research into commercial products. To fill this niche, I worked toward and obtained a second degree in finance. This skillset has helped me immensely over the last few years, and I have already found myself useful as a bridge between scientific and business communities.
I learned about InnoCentive through Chris Wilmer, another Ph.D candidate in my department. Come to think of it, this all probably started because his lab has an excellent coffee machine. Weird how that works.
This was my first challenge, which I took up within a few days of discovering InnoCentive. I have since considered a variety of other challenges—even working on experimental data for some—but have only submitted one other solution.
I was immediately drawn toward the nitrate capture problem posed by the Environmental Defense Fund. While my academic background helped, most of the inspiration came from my upbringing. I was raised in a coastal New England town, where oceanography was a large portion of our grade school education. This was coupled with my experience in high school of working in a produce market, where I met farmers using nitrate-consuming algae to fertilize their crops. Following this up with some elementary reaction kinetics, I was able to devise a theoretical solution to nitrate capture. I have since been in contact with the Environmental Defense Fund, and I hope to work with them in testing and implementing my idea!