Competition winner Dhruv Mehta and judge Vyomesh Joshi. Photo: Joel Ackerman

Triton Innovation Challenge Spotlights Trailblazing Environmental Solutions

UC San Diego students, faculty and staff present innovative technologies at premier entrepreneurship competition

Teams of UC San Diego engineers, physicians, biologists and entrepreneurs recently showcased their environmentally focused technologies at the 11th annual Triton Innovation Challenge.

This business competition is focused on fostering creativity and drawing attention to commercially promising, environmentally minded technologies created by students, faculty and staff from UC San Diego. Presented through a partnership among UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, Rady School of Management and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the program is one of the longest standing partnerships of innovation on campus.

Funded by the William and Kathryn Scripps Family Foundation, the Triton Innovation Challenge recognizes teams and startups who are creating solutions to enhance our relationship with the environment.

“The Triton Innovation Challenge is centered around supporting startups that showcase the intersection between innovation, sustainability, and entrepreneurship,” said Vanessa Scott, co-lead of the Triton Innovation Challenge and director of corporate affiliates, business development, industry outreach and innovation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The April 11 event was held at Otterson Hall at Rady School of Management on UC San Diego’s campus where six teams presented their startup pitches.

The final six teams and presenters were:

  • CleanShroom - Calvin Anderson, electrical engineering undergraduate student
  • ECOMESH - Han An, cell molecular biology and business undergraduate student
  • FishSense - Christopher Crutchfield, electrical engineering graduate student; Ryan Kastner, computer science faculty; and Brice Semmens, marine biology professor
  • Greenwater Scientific - Dhruv Mehta, mechanical engineering undergraduate student
  • New Tides Distillery - James Burdick, business administration graduate student
  • Wild Genomics - Eirik Torheim, business administration graduate student

Each team presented to a panel of judges and an audience as they competed for cash prizes totalling $12,500 in support of their ventures. Each team also engaged in a brief Q&A with the judges following each of their presentations. 

Grand Prize: Greenwater Scientific 

The grand prize was awarded to Greenwater Scientific, a company that is dedicated to empowering individuals to fight against climate change by bringing back pure oxygen with the world’s first air synthesizer. 

The founders of this company eventually discovered that oceanic plankton and algae are responsible for producing a significant portion of the planet’s oxygen. This is when the founders decided to look into growing algae to create an air synthesizer.

Greenwater Scientific is producing natural, negative-emission air synthesizers that harness the photosynthetic power of oceanic plankton and algae. The air purifier, known as the Greenwater Home, produces fresh oxygen and captures carbon dioxide with the power of 75 house plants. Those who purchase the Greenwater Home have to replace the culture of algae once every three months, which is sold and provided by Greenwater Scientific. 

Greenwater Scientific’s presentation was given by founder Dhruv Mehta, a UC San Diego undergraduate student majoring in mechanical engineering. Greenwater Scientific is also a part of the third cohort of startBlue, a program offered at UC San Diego in partnership with Scripps Oceanography and Rady School of Management. This program is designed to support ocean-focused startups. 

With its Triton Innovation Challenge win, Greenwater Scientific will receive a total of $7,500.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring oxygen back, reverse global warming by offsetting deforestation and increase oxygen levels to benefit people’s personal health,” said Mehta. “With this grand prize, we are going to use it to build our photobioreactor which allows us to grow the algae in large amounts and thus supply the algae for those who purchase the Greenwater Home.”

Runner Up and Audience Award: ECOMESH

The second prize and the audience award went to ECOMESH, a leading provider of sustainable bacterial cellulose material in substitution of polypropylene. 

Polypropylene is a synthetic, human-made material that is used for plastic packaging, medical and healthcare products like N95 masks, toys, kitchenware and more. According to ECOMESH, polypropylene is not sustainable for the environment because its production leads to the emission of pollutants and it is not biodegradable, exacerbating waste management challenges.

ECOMESH is currently creating a material that presents an eco-friendly alternative to polypropylene. The first product the team is working on is a mask that is tear resistant and can hold 10 times more moisture compared to a KN95 mask and also reduces inhalation of airborne particles by 14%. They plan to manufacture more products, including food packaging, straws, plastic cups and more.  

ECOMESH’s presentation was given by co-founder Han An, a UC San Diego undergraduate student majoring in cell molecular biology. He was joined by co-founder and UC San Diego alumnus Sean Jin and co-founder Edwin Kim from Yonsei University in South Korea.

After winning both the second prize and the audience award, ECOMESH will receive a total of $5,000. “This award is crucial because it helps us potentially get a patent in the United States,” said An. 

Other Teams

FishSense, also part of the first startBlue cohort, is using imaging advancements to monitor fish species to track the population growth and general health of fish. They have developed a dive camera that includes a waterproof laser pointer. Divers are able to point the laser at fish directly to record data about different fish species, specifically the length of fish. Scripps Oceanography marine biologist Brice Semmens is a collaborator on the project. FishSense is also part of the Engineers for Exploration program at the Jacobs School of Engineering. 

New Tides Distillery and Wild Genomics are also both currently a part of the third startBlue cohortNew Tides Distillery uses a proprietary marine yeast to ferment and distill ocean water directly without needing to desalinate it first. Wild Genomics is developing a pest monitoring system through autonomous sampling and analysis of environmental DNA.

CleanShroom is looking to use mycology, or the study of fungi, as a more viable long-term waste management solution. Their goal is to provide government agencies with mycoremediation services, a solution to environmental chemical cleanup that uses mushrooms to break down toxic waste.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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