Students take unusual approach to the problem of harmful algae blooms at Ramboll Think Tank at SyracuseCoE.

“Between the resources available and the proximity to the Tech Garden and Ramboll office downtown, SyracuseCoE was a great environment for the interns to develop and grow their network.”
– Jamie Newton, Director of Innovation, Ramboll

Harmful algae blooms (HABs) have become a growing threat to the ecological, recreational and economic services provided by waterways in New York state due to toxins that can cause sickness and fatality among people, pets, livestock and wildlife. Due to their ephemeral nature—they can grow rapidly and be moved by wind and water currents—HABs are difficult to characterize and manage.

A team of college students from Syracuse and Clarkson universities is promoting the use of unmanned aerial systems (drones) to collect information pertaining to HABs and associated patterns of lake dynamics to better understand where and how HABs develop and guide how they can be managed.

Ramboll hired the six students—Haleem Alakiu ’20, Trufat Emanuel ’20 and Bryan King ’20 from Syracuse University and Noah Poirer, Kaitlin Rossiter and Adam Sherwood from Clarkson University— who spent the summer engaged in the first-ever Ramboll Think Tank, housed at SyracuseCoE. During its 11-week internship, the team studied a health and environment statement around HABs, developed ideas to collect and quantify data, and engaged industry and municipal partners to validate the uses and demand for such information.

Ramboll is a global engineering, design and consultancy company that acquired Syracuse-headquartered engineering and design consultancy OBG on January 1. According to Jamie Newtown, director of innovation at Ramboll, the Think Tank was an outgrowth of OBG’s SPARK competition, a 24-hour innovation think tank where teams of college students brainstorm and problem solve to find innovative solutions to real- world industry challenges.

“We recognized there was a lot of talent within these SPARK programs and decided to extract the top talent out of a competition held in Central New York to help with our own innovation,” he says.

Holding the Think Tank at SyracuseCoE was natural. OBG was a founding Industry Partner, and Neil Webb, Ramboll director of growth and markets, chairs the SyracuseCoE Partners Council. SyracuseCoE has partnered on SPARK, hosting numerous Central New York competitions.

“SyracuseCoE was the perfect collaborative environment for the Think Tank to meet,” says Newtown. “Between the resources available there and the proximity to the Tech Garden and Ramboll office downtown, it was a great environment for the interns to develop and grow their network.”

In August, the Think Tank team participated in Drones Over Downtown in Syracuse and the following week made a poster presentation at the SyracuseCoE Innovation Showcase with additional support from Syracuse University Blackstone Launchpad. Their work culminated with submission of an application to GENIUS NY, the world’s largest business accelerator program for unmanned systems.

“Their goal is to be selected for 2020 and be able to create and launch a new business to refine their idea,” says Newtown.

Regardless of the outcome, the interns found the Think Tank experience an invaluable addition to their education.

“A lot of engineering is physics and math,” says King, an engineering major. “This internship allowed me to develop business and networking skills, allowing me better insight into other avenues I could pursue with my combined engineering and newfound business knowledge.”

Led by Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE engages students, faculty, and collaborators at 200+ firms and institutions to catalyze innovations that improve energy efficiency, environmental quality, and resilience in healthy buildings and cleaner, greener communities.