By Zein Saleh, Associate Lecturer

If I were to write a list of what has changed since the beginning of 2020, I’d probably end up writing a book.

I could retell the whole pandemic: an amazing start to the session, the rapid transition to remote learning after only three weeks of face-to-face teaching, all the first-year students missing out on that intrinsic, Unibar experience. Instead, let me tell you about what hasn’t changed: the resiliency, determination, and passion of our first year engineering students.

I remember my own first few weeks at university. I could probably sum it up as “lecture, lecture, avoid human interaction, lunch, tutorial, labs, avoid human interaction, lecture, avoid human interaction, dorms, sleep” then do it all over again the next day.

You come to learn the hard way that university life is about social experiences, making connections, interacting with people, being in uncomfortable situations, being challenged and building resiliency.

I really can’t imagine what it would be like for someone to come to university for three weeks and then have to go back home to learn remotely. You know what else is beyond my imagination? Missing out on all those social interactions and yet still being able to build such amazing resiliency and passion for your studies.

Where am I heading with all this? Well, it’s the design competition of our first-year common engineering subject “Engineering Design for Sustainability”. This year the theme was diverting waste from landfill through innovative engineering solutions and developing products from waste.

Throughout the 13 weeks of session, teams of 4-5 students learned about the key concepts of engineering and sustainability, and this culminated in a Creative Design Final competition held via zoom.

Around 200 participants, judges from industry and guests attended. Ten teams each presented a four-minute pitch of their product (either through awesome video presentations the students had cut together working remotely, or through a series of slides). This was followed by a live four-minute question and answer session with the judging panel, including representatives from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, AusIMM, Bluescope, and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Award categories included a Community Award, sponsored by the Woolyungah Indigenous Centre (WIC); Most Sustainable Design; Most Technical Design; Most Innovative and Creative Design; Most Economically Viable Design sponsored by AusIMM; People’s Choice; and the Best Overall Winning Team Award, sponsored by BlueScope.

Here are the winners and their video entries:

Team Plastic Picassos won the WIC Community Award with a product they created called Canvasia – a unique art canvas developed with HDPE waste, primarily bottle caps. The caps are melted down and molded to create a clean, flat surface. The Plastic Picassos believed their work ethic, commitment to twice-weekly meetings and strong communications helped develop and deliver their high-quality product on time:

Team Plastic Irradiating Initiative won Most Sustainable Design Award where they created a product called Irradiated Plastic Cement Mix. Hard plastic is irradiated then used as an additive to cement mix to increase the strength of concrete:

Team Gherkin Inc. won the Most Technical Design Award with a product called The Drain Filtration System. They used rubber from old tyres, PVC, stainless steel and plastic to create their product:

The Right Team won both the People’s Choice Award and the Most Innovative and Creative Design Award with a product called Aerogel. Here they dissolved denim jeans in a solvent to create a liquid called Aerogel that can be used for thermal insulation:

Team PyroPolymers Inc. won the Most Economically Viable Design with a product called EthyPanels. They used plastics to create internal gyprock panels with better strength and durability than existing panels on the market. The key to team PyroPolymers’ success was how they worked together, identifying each team member’s strengths, and allocating tasks to suit their skills, knowledge and interest:

Finally, The Stream Team won the Best Overall Winning Team Award with a product called the Hydrohive that filtrates greywater using three boxes and leads to a 45% reduction in water wastage: