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EPA Awards Grant to Carnegie Mellon Student Team for Innovative Technology Project

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EPA Awards Grant to Carnegie Mellon Student Team for

Innovative Technology Project

PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 28, 2021)The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $25,000 grant to Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, today through its People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program. The funding is part of approximately $800,000 awarded to 32 student teams nationally to develop and demonstrate projects that help address environmental and public health challenges.

“If we want to ensure and continue our mission to protect human health and the environment, we have to prepare for it now by investing in our future. Last month, and throughout all of 2020, the EPA celebrated its 50th anniversary, and we want to highlight ways the agency supports our upcoming environmental leaders,” said Diana Esher, Acting EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator. “The P3 program helps foster environmental education among students to support the next generation of scientists and engineers working to tackle some of today’s most pressing environmental issues.

Carnegie Mellon University’s winning project involved developing sensors that can detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) down to the parts per billion (ppb) level to reduce human exposure and VOC emissions.  The objective is to develop a reliable and cost-effective VOC sensor suite for ambient and residential deployment with rough speciation, which will enable human exposure estimation and pollution control.

“We spend 90% of our time indoors but are often unaware of the pollutants in those spaces. This project will enable us to better understand people’s exposures to volatile organic compounds like benzene and formaldehyde that can be important both indoors and outdoors,” said Albert Presto, Associate Research Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “The P3 project funding ensures that undergraduate students will play a major role in developing and testing new sensors that can help people better understand their exposures.”

The developed sensor suites will be deployed indoors and outdoors to evaluate their performance. These personal devices will be useful tools to help people identify VOC emission sources and raise awareness of surrounding air pollution. This sensor suite will be especially beneficial to rural and disadvantaged communities who have limited access to public resources.

This year’s winners are addressing a variety of research topics including efforts to reduce microplastics waste and food waste, creating innovative and solar-driven nanomaterials, building a stand-alone water treatment system that can provide potable water for indoor use in single family homes, and removing PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) from water using liquid extractions. These teams are also eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to further implement their design in a real-world setting.

Phase I grantees from the EPA Mid-Atlantic Region include student teams from the following universities:

  • Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
    • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Sensors for ppb (parts per billion)-Level Detection and Speciation
  • Marshall University, Huntington, W.Va.
    • Nanoclay Reinforced Recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene) to Replace PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and PE (Polyethylene) Water Pipe Materials
  • Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa.
    • Biochar Filter for Philadelphia Water Lead (Pb) Removal
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, Va.
    • Rare Earth Elements Recovery Using Food Waste

To learn more about the P3 Phase I winners, visit:


The P3 program is a two-phase research grants program that challenges students to research, develop and design innovative projects addressing environmental and public health challenges. Phase I serves as a “proof of concept,” where teams are awarded a $25,000 grant to develop their idea and showcase their research in the spring at EPA’s National Student Design Expo. These teams are then eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to implement their design.

For more information on the P3 Program, visit:

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