May 20, 2016 – University of Colorado Boulder graduate student Heather Hava is a winner of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, a nationwide search for the most inventive college students. The young inventor is committed to creating game-changing innovation and technological solutions with the power to maximize the health and well-being of humans on Earth and in space.
The winners of this year’s competition were selected from a diverse and highly-competitive applicant pool of students from 77 colleges and universities across the country.
“This year’s Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winners have outstanding portfolios of inventive work.” said Michael Cima, faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Their passion for solving problems through invention is matched by their commitment to mentoring the next generation of inventors.”
Hava has developed two primary inventions, which together can be used to grow fruits and vegetables in any environment:
SmartPot (SPOT) is a smart growth chamber that can work semi-autonomously to grow food. It’s small and compact, so it can easily be moved anywhere in a space habitat. The chamber itself is an enclosure that acts as a microclimate for the plant with everything from temperature, humidity, lighting and ventilation specifically controlled for the optimal conditions for the individual plant. The base of SPOT is a water reservoir which has all of the nutrients for the plants. The water is recycled in the chamber by pumping it up through the chamber, where it drips onto the plant’s root zone and eventually flows back into the reservoir. On the outside of SPOT, a screen displays the health data of the plant to the astronaut caretakers. That data is simultaneously being sent back to a teleoperations center on Earth where an operator can monitor all the systems for the plant – helping to reduce the workload for astronauts.
The second invention is AgQ, an A.I. platform for agriculture that uses plant health data from sensors in SPOT and wearable human physiological sensors to monitor, alert, diagnose and predict issues with both the plants and their human caretakers. AgQ employs a data processing pipeline and machine learning techniques to improve crop yields through early warning systems that educate its users about the health of their crop and provide suggestions for corrective actions when a problem is identified.
Hava also worked with the XHab team to develop the concept and prototype for a Remotely Operated Gardening Rover (ROGR), which was designed to work with SPOT and AgQ, moving via remote control about a spacecraft to care for and harvest the plants. ROGR can move SPOT from one surface to another with several cameras that allow it to drive and inspect plants to determine if the fruits or vegetables are ready for harvest. The teleoperator can use the arm to harvest the food and bring it to the preparation area on the spacecraft. Each SPOT has the ability to call for a care task, such as refilling the water reservoir to be performed either by ROGR or the astronaut caretaker, which receives alerts via a mobile app.
Together, these inventions can provide the necessary nutrients for astronauts’ survival and will enhance the psychological well-being of the crew by providing familiarity and contact with nature in a hostile and unfamiliar environment such as Mars. The inventions also allow astronauts to be able to interact with the plants which may reduce their stress levels and improve their general well-being. With minimal additional workloads, astronauts have access to nature and fresh food with SPOT on board.
Hava is a PhD student in the Aerospace Engineering Sciences program at the University of Colorado Boulder with an emphasis in Bioastronautics. She is also the founder and CEO of Stellar Synergetics as well as the cofounder and CEO of Autoponics. These companies are currently engaged in a joint venture focused on creating social, environmental and economic impact by providing affordable, environmentally responsible housing and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facilities, for Earth applications and ultimately to support life in space.
Hava loves mentoring young women who show an interest in STEM and has led four successful design competitions as part of Space Grant’s eXploration Habitat (XHab) Challenge and the NASA RASC-AL program. She also regularly visits schools and community outreach events where she shares her research and passion for space exploration to ignite excitement in young people who are considering pursuing a career in STEM.
Hava earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering Technology at the Oregon Institute of Technology in 2006. While currently pursuing her Masters and PhD, she is also working towards two MS Certificates in Engineering for Developing Communities and in Engineering Entrepreneurship.
The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is a national collegiate invention prize program, supported by The Lemelson Foundation, serving as a catalyst for burgeoning young inventors.
Lemelson-MIT Student Prize applicants were evaluated by screening committees with expertise in the invention categories as well as a national judging panel of industry leaders – who also select the annual $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize winner. Screeners and judges assessed candidates on breadth and depth of inventiveness and creativity; potential for societal benefit and economic commercial success; community and environmental systems impact; and experience as a role model for youth.
Click here for a full list of prize winners.
Students interested in applying for the 2017 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize can find more information here. The Lemelson-MIT Program is also seeking partners with interest in sponsoring the competition, in addition to supporting the execution and scaling into new categories. Interested sponsors can find more information here.