Following a search for the most inventive college students in the land, graduate student Julie Bliss Mullen of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department was one of the national winners of the 2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Program, which recognizes young inventors who have dedicated themselves to solving global problems. Mullen was rewarded for her Electrochemical Water Purification Technology and Chlorine Generator. See press coverage: Boston Herald, Associated Press (AP).
Specifically, Mullen won the “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: Rewarding technology-based inventions that involve food/water and agriculture. There was also a wide range of other winners in various categories.
According to an AP article, Mullen’s company, Aclarity LLC, offers a scalable electrochemical water purification technology marketed initially for residential use. Mullen and Barrett Mully, a UMass Amherst MBA student, founded Aclarity in 2017 and won $26,000 from the Innovation Challenge, an entrepreneurship contest run by Berthiaume Center at the Isenberg School of Management.
The AP article said that Mullen’s technology “uses low amounts of electricity to zap contaminants in water through advanced oxidation reactions. The technology disinfects pathogens, destroys organic contaminants, removes metals, and normalizes pH to produce truly clean and safe water. It reduces maintenance, uses low energy, and purifies water faster and more efficiently than conventional treatment methods in the U.S. and globally.”
Mullen’s profile for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize noted that she has always been inspired by technology and discovery and how they affect the daily lives of others. When someone asked her as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up, the little scientist in her would respond with, “a storm chaser, a rock specialist, or a bug collector.”
In high school, according to her profile, she took an environmental science elective and was inspired by her teacher, who had taken many trips to uninhabited lands where he discovered new plants and animals, survived by eating wild goat, and swam with sharks. “How cool!” she thought and as one result decided to pursue the environmental field.
After attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute as an undergrad, Mullen has been studying for her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UMass Amherst. Here, she has been working with her advisor, CEE Professor David Reckhow, as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems research center. In that capacity, she has been designing, evaluating, and developing a wide variety of novel water treatment technologies for industry.
In 2015, Mullen began using the electrochemical water purification technology she prototyped to design, conduct tests, and evaluate its effectiveness in purifying water. The results were astoundingly positive; so much so that Forbes magazine profiled Mullen in a feature story published in June of 2018, pointing out Aclarity as one of 30 startups chosen by the Los Angeles-based Cleantech Open for its 2018 business acceleration program.
Later Forbes named Mullen in the magazine’s all-star listing of “30 Under 30 for Science” in 2018. The Forbes “30 Under 30 for Science” is part and parcel of the magazine’s “30 Under 30” – a set of comprehensive lists issued annually by Forbes and some of its regional editions to recognize 600 business and industry figures around the world, with 30 selected in twenty industries each.
A portable prototype of Mullen’s new technology was taken to India by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, where he demonstrated it in a rural part of the country using solar power. Aclarity also took second place at the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator program to win a $27,500 prize. In addition, Aclarity received $225,000 from the federal Small Business Innovation Research office.
The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, and serves as a catalyst for young inventors in the fields of healthcare, transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer devices. The program awarded a total of $90,000 in prizes to three undergraduate teams and four individual graduate student inventors, selected from a large and highly competitive pool of applicants from across the United States. Students were selected based on a variety of factors including: the overall inventiveness of their work, the invention’s potential for commercialization or adoption, and youth mentorship experience.
“We are inspired by the revolutionary work of this year’s winners,” said faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT Program and Associate Dean of Innovation at MIT’s School of Engineering, Prof. Michael J. Cima. “All of the inventions are designed with the intention of making the world a better place. We are proud of how dedicated these young inventors are to combatting real-world problems.” (May 2019)