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Blueprint 2019 Returns This Weekend, with Oceans + Innovation

Third annual ideathon aims to make waves in ocean conservation

This Friday and Saturday, Duke Conservation Tech (DCT) will host its third annual Blueprint conference. In addition to a free, public discussion with sustainable technology and innovation experts from National Geographic, the Explorers Club, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the conference features an ideation competition focused on conservation technology for students from schools across the country.

DCT is a student organization led by and composed of undergraduate students from Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment. The group founded Blueprint in 2017 to bring greater awareness of critical environmental issues to a broad audience. DCT calls the competition component an ideathon, because it encourages students to generate blueprints for numerous solutions to pressing environmental issues, rather than concentrating on a single, silver-bullet solution.

“Our mission is to inspire disruptive innovation for future-focused global change,” said Joshua Furth ME ’18, a founding member of DCT who continues to help organize Blueprint. “Harnessing the energy and rapid pace of hackathons gives students of all academic backgrounds, even those without engineering or other technical backgrounds, the power and confidence to make real change.”

“Harnessing the energy and rapid pace of hackathons gives students of all academic backgrounds, even those without engineering or other technical backgrounds, the power and confidence to make real change.”

Joshua Furth ME'18

Each year Blueprint tackles a different issue of environmentalism and conservation. This year’s event aims to inspire actionable blueprints for sustainable and scalable technologies that make waves in ocean conservation. Past themes have included “People + Wildlife” and “Nature + Progress.”

Past Blueprint events have led to more than 20 promising blueprints for sustainable change, many of which Duke Conservation Tech has taken on as ongoing student projects, said Maya Sheth BME ‘20, student-president of DCT and lead organizer of Blueprint 2019.

For example, in areas where elephants and farmers coexist, the huge animals frequently trample and destroy farmers’ crops, causing tension and threatening the livelihood of communities. At the 2017 Blueprint ideathon, a student noted that elephants are terrified of bees, and posed a question: could a fence made of vibrating rubber bands, that replicates the buzzing of bees, keep elephants away from valuable crops? With the help of the US Army Research Office, one of the original sponsors of Blueprint, DCT implemented the idea in South Africa last year with encouraging results, according to Sheth, and the new technology could help smooth the thorny relationship between people and wildlife in the region. By partnering with organizations to support team’s blueprint ideas, DCT hopes that Blueprint will be an agent of change in conservation technology far beyond the weekend itself. 

Blueprint has grown significantly since its inception three years ago.  While the first event was attended by barely over 100 people, Blueprint 2018 had an audience of nearly 300, and DCT is planning for a crowd of equal or larger size this year. The organizers attribute the event’s growth to the approachable tone they have cultivated for the event, and a deepening interest in environmental issues in general.

Blueprint 2019 begins on Friday, February 1 with the Speakers Panel, and continues on Saturday, February 2 with the ideathon competition. Speaker bios and a detailed schedule of events can be found on the Duke Blueprint website.

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