Big Shoulders — Grant Nikseresht and Chester Hsieh, Illinois Tech

There is hacking. And then there is AquaHacking. AquaHacking Challenge is an annual event focused on using technology to improve Great Lakes water quality. Each year, they focus on a different Great Lake. This year’s focus was on reducing threats to Lake Erie from urban areas, agriculture and industry.  

Shared by the province of Ontario and the US states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York, Lake Erie is the source of drinking water for over 11 million people. Like all the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is a major water resource at risk. Water quality is impacted by industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, and invasive species. Combined with climate change (which is causing the lake to become warmer), the ecosystem could be permanently altered if these issues are not addressed.

That is where the AquaHacking Challenge comes in. The challenge asked “Water experts, hackers, engineers, and other creative minds work together as a team for 10 weeks to develop functional, marketable innovations to help solve Lake Erie’s water issues.” Chicago is not on Lake Erie (we have our own Great Lake). But we do have talented individuals who care about water issues. Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it like this: “We have a shared responsibility to do what we can to protect the Great Lakes. And the AquaHacking Challenge is a great way to engage top minds in finding solutions to address the issues facing our waterways”.  

The Mayor charged Current, a Chicago accelerator that works on research targeted at water innovation and technology development, to pull together a team. Current did one better: it put together two. One team was formed of former classmates of mine at Illinois Tech. Grant Nikseresht and Chester Hsieh are candidates for the Masters of Data Science program, and are enthusiastic about applying their skills and creativity on difficult water challenges. The focus: Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB). Sounds bad? It is. In fact, it is toxic. How do they form and what can be done? Watch my interview with Grant Nikseresht and Chester Hsieh from Illinois Institute of Technology to find out.  Let’s hack.

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