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Student Project Funding

Northwestern undergraduate and graduate students may apply for financial support (up to $5,000 for project/prototype assistance; up to $25,000 for scale-up assistance) for their projects that address significant local and global challenges in sustainability and energy. Through this funding, the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy is bridging the gap between research and solution ideation, proof-of-concept work, and testing methods for implementation-at-scale.

Students may apply as individuals or in teams. Projects must address local and/or global projects. Applications are evaluated on a rolling basis.


The Paula Trienens Institute's support is to provide platforms for in-depth collaborative student research, student entrepreneurship and social impact projects across schools and departments to help chart a sustainable path forward. Awardees must be current Northwestern students in good standing. As well, each project must have at least one faculty advisor. Awardees will agree to their proposal possibly being highlighted in Institute promotions or press. It is allowable to be a co-investigator on more than one award; however, the primary investigator should only have one active award.

Teams will be eligible to apply for three types of funding:

  • Project/prototype assistance – Teams may receive up to $5,000, for up to twelve (12) months
  • Scale-up assistance – Teams may receive up to $25,000, for up to eighteen (18) months
  • Travel assistance* related to the Project development– domestic and international, as necessary

*Any associated travel costs need additional review- please submit these requests via with the subject "LAST NAME- PROJECT TITLE- TRAVEL REQUEST" and at least a month's lead time before expected travel date.


Research related supplies, services and publication costs.

Not Allowable

Salary, stipends, fringe benefits, tuition, and cost sharing on sponsored research. 


Deliverables are outlined in the award letter and include acknowledging funding and publications, letting the Institute know of grant submissions enabled by the funding, the final report and willingness to communicate with the Institute Mar/Comm team. We will let you know via email as soon as possible on the funding decisions.


Past Funding Recipients

The Trienens Institute has previously supported student initiatives and projects in sustainability and energy through opportunities such as:

Resnick Family Social Impact Program

In early 2016, the Trienens Institute launched the Resnick Family Social Impact Program, which supports student projects that address significant local and global challenges in sustainability and energy. The Program was seeded by a generous $500,000 gift from Paula Stamler Resnick (WCAS ’86) and Ira Resnick.

Spring 2018: Recovering Resources from Polluted Industrial Wastewater

NUMiX Materials

Funding Awarded: $5,000

People in labThe student startup NUMiX ("Northwestern University Metal ion Exchange") is developing a material that can treat contaminated water more efficiently and effectively than market competitors. NUMiX selectively captures a suite of heavy metals in contaminated water. The material, a metal-ion exchange sorbent, is a powder that locks in a range of dissolved heavy metals that are present in minute concentrations in industrial processed water, allowing for an easier filtration process. The material was developed in the lab of Mercouri Kanatzidis, chemistry professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Materials for Energy and the Environment (CAMEE). It was developed into a commercial product in Winter quarter 2018 during NUvention: Energy —a course offered by ISEN and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in which interdisciplinary graduate student teams develop plans to commercialize a product or service in the burgeoning cleantech space. NUMiX members include: Katie Kollhoff (MEM '18), Matt Heise (MEM '18), Olivia Lugar (Law '18), and Laurelle Banta (MS Law '18, BS McC '17).

Read story from Northwestern Engineering News

Spring 2018: Solving Food Waste and Boosting Health

Kathryn Bernell (MMM '18)

Funding Awarded: $25,000

Kathryn Bernell

Kathryn Bernell is the founder of reBLEND, a line of frozen food products that ‘Do good.’ Through her business, she aims to turn produce that is often deemed unsellable due to an unattractive appearance into a nutrient-rich option for people. After working with nutritionists to develop the product and talking with potential clients like hotels and universities, she ran two successful, sold-out pilots. In a world where farmers can lose up to one-third of their produce due to cosmetic imperfections, and consumers often don’t get enough fruit and vegetables in their diet, Bernell feels the time is right to offer her solution. Her success to date is evidence of the strength of the business plan: a first-place prize in the Kellogg Shark Tank competition and second place in a Northwestern pitch competition. Her first offering—a line of smoothies—is just the tip of the iceberg for Bernell, who hopes to work toward offering a large product line. She’s backed by a large team of student collaborators and partners at Northwestern.

Read more about solving food waste and boosting health.

Spring 2018: Teaching the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals

Rebecca Fudge (WCAS '19)

Funding Awarded: $5,000

Two women with a game.Sustainability has been a lifelong area of interest for junior Rebecca Fudge, a biology major and world literature minor. But it wasn’t until she spent the fall semester abroad in Copenhagen in 2017 that she was inspired with a means to take action. During her semester abroad she learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals—a set of 17 goals set by the UN in 2015 designed to improve a spectrum of interconnected global social and economic development issues by 2030, including affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, zero hunger, quality education, and gender equality. Fudge is taking a unique approach to this dilemma – she’s developed a board game, in collaboration with one of her Copenhagen professors, which teaches participants about the SDGs in the course of gameplay. Building on a growing trend in education of gamification to teach non-game concepts while building cooperation, Fudge intends for the game to be used in high schools as a part of a one hour class.

Read a Q&A with Rebecca Fudge about this project.

Winter 2018: Confronting Water Insecurity from Chicago to Kathmandu

Prof. Sera Young (WCAS), Vidya Venkataramanan (Fellow, WCAS), and various student research teams (WCAS, SESP, McC)

Funding Awarded: $25,000

Floods and droughts are two sides of the same catastrophic coin. They are both types of water insecurity—one having to do with excessive amounts of water and the other with a lack thereof. Northwestern assistant professor of anthropology and global health Sera Young, postdoctoral fellow Vidya Venkataramanan, and teams of graduate and undergraduate student researchers, are tackling the issue of water insecurity from two different angles. First, the team is studying urban flooding and the human impacts of green infrastructure in a southwest Chicago neighborhood. In contrast with traditional “gray” infrastructure (e.g. conventional gutters, storm sewers, tunnels, pipes, etc.), “green” infrastructure mimics nature by capturing rainwater so it can be reused, temporarily retained, or allowed to seep into the soil, rather than flowing into overburdened sewer systems. At the same time, the researchers are working on developing a first-of-its-kind scale used to measure global water insecurity experiences at the household level. To-date, no such metric exists that allows for global comparisons of the experiences of inadequate access to or use of water.

Learn more about this project

Winter 2018: Responsibly Producing Chocolate

Peter Hosbein, Noah Rosenthal, Jonathan Sammon, and Morgan Uridil (McC '18)

Peter Hosbein, Noah Rosenthal, Jonathan Sammon, and Morgan Uridil (McC '18)Funding Awarded: $5,000

This team of undergraduate engineering students received funding to advance their work designing systems and processes for environmentally and socially sustainable cacao fermentation, the primary ingredient in chocolate. The team set out to design a system that would improve the current process of fermentation (which is still largely done manually) in a way that can be measured—allowing for more control over the outcome. The cacao industry is an important social and economic factor, particularly in the Caribbean. In addition to the boosting the economic viability of an industry that suffered from a devastating tree fungus in the 1980’s and later deforestation, there are also sustainability benefits to the team’s methods. This includes leading farmers to grow on smaller acreage farms where cocoa plants can be easily incorporated into local rainforest vegetation.

Learn more about this project

Summer 2017: Developing a Global Guide to Aid in Reconstruction and Disaster Recovery

Vidushi Dwivedi (TGS '18)

Vidushi Dwivedi (TGS '18)
Vidushi Dwivedi (TGS '18)

Funding Awarded: $2,500

Vidushi Dwivedi, who graduated with a master’s in chemical engineering in 2018, spent the summer and fall working with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop a global guide for policymakers and project engineers to use in reconstruction and disaster recovery. Originally developed by WWF after the Nepal Earthquake in 2015, Building Material Selection and Use: An Environmental Guide (BMEG) is specific to reconstruction in Nepal. Vidushi’s role is to help develop an expanded, international version of the guide, with a strong focus on sustainable materials. She is compiling and comparing information related to the disposal, recyclability, durability, embodied energy, cost-efficiency, and carbon footprint of dozens of materials. The guide will aid in deciding on which materials to use in construction projects, so as to be cost-effective as well as environmentally friendly. She is working in collaboration with McCormick faculty members Stephen Carr (Materials Science and Engineering) and Bill Miller (Chemical and Biological Engineering), as well as Dr. Missaka Hettiarachchi, a civil and environmental engineer at WWF.

Learn more about this project

Summer 2017: US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Competition

House by Northwestern Team

Funding Awarded: $25,000

House by Northwestern (HBN) team
House by Northwestern (HBN) Team

The House by Northwestern (HBN) team is designing and building a house that combines modern construction practices and energy efficiency with cutting edge renewable energy. The result is a sustainable home that is well-adapted for the extreme seasons of the Chicago climate and minimizes the impact on the surrounding environment. The house is named Enable, which stands for two of the team’s core tenets: Energized, which refers both to energy-efficiency and an active lifestyle, and Adaptable, which means this is a house that can fit many roles. Enable is 90% more energy efficient than the average home in Evanston. The solar-powered sustainable house is an official entry in the eighth Solar Decathlon competition, sponsored by the United States Department of Energy. The Solar Decathlon features a total of 11 collegiate teams that includes European teams from Switzerland and Netherlands. The Solar Decathlon entries compete in 10 categories such as innovation, architecture, engineering, market potential and communications. The HBN team is comprised of various students from across the university.

Learn more about this project

Spring 2017: Food Security in the Caribbean

Lauren Audi (MS, WCAS '19)

Funding Awarded: $5,000


Lauren Audi is a first year Master's student in the Plant Biology and Conservation Program, led by Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Her work focuses on increasing food security and income opportunities in tropical regions through local partnerships in agricultural approaches. Lauren is mentored by Nyree Zerega, PhD Director, Graduate Program in Plant Biology and Conservation. Lauren's project will address food security in the Caribbean by assembling and characterizing the diversity of breadfruit in the region. Internationally recognized as an emerging crop in the tropics, breadfruit compared favorable to major stapled (including wheat, rice, and corn) in both yields and nutritional content. Additionally, it is a low energy input tree crop requiring minimal maintenance. It can be produced and consumed locally on small and large scaled, and provides opportunities for local entrepreneurship. Over the course of a year, Lauren will collaborate with the St. Vincent Botanic Garden (SVBG) to conduct an ethnographic survey of breadfruit designed to assess community knowledge about the crop and its cultural, economic, and environmental use. She will work with local partners to provide resources to farmers to process breadfruit, and finally she will design and install a breadfruit germplasm and agroforestry demonstration in collaboration with the SVBG.

Since receiving the Resnick Family Social Impact Grant, Audi has traveled to St. Vinvent and collected DNA from 27 varieties of breadfruit found on the island and provided samples to the St. Vincent Botanical Gardens where they will be preserved for future use and study. Upon returning to Evanston, Audi has been working in the genetic lab at the Chicago Botanic Garden where she is sequencing the breadfruit DNA using genomic methods. She will compare the samples to the large global collection of breadfruit to determine how many varieties of breadfruit exist in St. Vincent, which global varieties are most closely related to St. Vincent, and which varieties are unique to St. Vincent. While abroad, Audi also provided a small industrial-size factory-in-a-box to a farmers’ organization to incentivize them to process their breadfruit into breadfruit flour. The Ministry of Agriculture in St. Vincent has since expressed its desire to have many more farmer groups set up with such equipment. Audi also linked the farmers who are producing breadfruit flour to a local nonprofit, Trees that Feed, which will be the purchaser of the flour. Finally, Audi shared her work at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) event.

Spring 2017: New Process to Facilitate More Efficient Lithium Extraction

Peter Hosbein (McC '19)

Funding Awarded: $5,000

Peter Hosbein is a second-year undergraduate student in the Materials Science department at Northwestern. His Resnick project tests the viability of inorganic ion exchange for lithium extraction, which could make the process more efficient, and have broad-scale implications for products ranging from smart phones to electric vehicles. Lithium ion batteries are the most efficient and longest lasting batteries available today and demand for lithium outstripped supply in the last two years. Currently, most lithium is produced through evaporation of small salt lakes in the Atacama Desert, with the help of harsh chemicals and large amounts of locally-sourced freshwater. Selective ion exchange is one proposed alternative to current extraction methods. It is a chemical reaction that replaces one ion in a lattice with another ion, and can be thought of designing a sponge that will absorb only red dye from a purple mixture that contains both red and blue dyes. Peter will test materials lithium-metal-oxide materials developed at Northwestern as candidates for selective ion exchange. He will test the materials in industrially relevant conditions that could be deployed in the Atacama, notably in conditions that minimize water consumption.

Since its funding, the project has tested three materials for lithium Ion exchange using three different processing methods. One of these materials, lithium tin oxide, has established itself as the most efficient ion exchanging material based on initial lithium composition exchanged. 62 percent of initial lithium concentration was exchanged in this material compared to less than 20 percent in all others tested. The materials were also cycled to test uptake as well as flushing of lithium and it was found that approximately two thirds of the ion exchange capacity was preserved after multiple cycles. Hosbein is now testing lithium manganese oxide as a filter for the inside of lithium ion batteries which could prevent a common destructive chemical reaction and prolong the lifetime, and sustainability, of the batteries.

Fall 2016: Best Foot Forward, Female Entrepreneurship

Caleigh Hernandez (WCAS '15)

Funding Awarded: $25,000

Caleigh Hernandez (WCAS ’15)
Caleigh Hernandez (WCAS ’15)

Best Foot Forward (BFF) is a social business dedicated to empowering female artisans working in the shoe industry. BFF’s CEO, Caleigh Hernandez (WCAS ’15), a 2014 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), received $25,000 from the Resnick Family Social Impact Fund to apply toward growing her business. The BFF business model creates US markets for high quality goods created in Malindi, Kenya, where terrorism and high unemployment serve as impediments for working women. In just two short years, BFF’s female artisans have seen their wages increase by 125 percent, which is 50 percent higher than industry standard. The company also invests in direct community development initiatives and seeks to provide its artisans with services such as health insurance, daycare, and transportation. “Rather than decide what people need, we’ve adopted a more organic approach by working with our artisans to discover what would make the most meaningful impact on quality of life to them and their communities,” says Hernandez.

Since receiving the Resnick Family Social Impact Fund, BFF has undergone a strategic marketing evaluation and is in the process of rebranding to RoHo, a Swahili word for kindness and spirit, and a brand name that can encompass its growing product line. BFF is currently collaborating with Heshima Kenya to produce a line of shibori-dyed scarves made by 50 refugee women in Kenya. On the last trip to Kenya, BFF hosted several quality control sessions and discussed ways in which to improve the community of Malindi. This led to the creation of an education fund, in artisan retention is tied with education bonuses for their children. BFF currently supports the children of eight of its artisans, providing school fees. Pending a finalized reelection process, the team will return to Kenya in the coming months.

Learn more about this project

Spring 2016: Kheyti, Sustainable Agriculture

Saumya (KSM '17)

Funding Awarded: $25,000

Saumya (KSM '17)
Saumya (KSM '17)

Kheyti, a social enterprise that aids smallholder farmers in India by offering a low cost, modular,and technologically-equipped greenhouse, was the inaugural recipient of the Resnick Family Social Impact Grant. It is co-founded by Saumya (KSM '17). Since it was funded, Kheyti has 15 paying customers and a full year of greenhouse growing experience, growing peppers and cucumbers. Tracking revenues, yields, and costs, the team has developed training manuals to streamline the greenhouse construction process for new farmers. They have also tested various materials and design processes with the help of a Northwestern student design team during Spring 2017 and have designed a version of the product that brings costs down by nearly 20 percent. Finally, the team has reduced installation time of each greenhouse from 15 days to 5 days. In 2017, the team participated in the MassChallenge (Israel) Startup Accelerator.

Learn more about Kheyti


Contact Jim Puricelli, Director of Operations and Research