CMU students win Geothermal Design Challenge prizes

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office partnered with the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) earlier this spring to highlight the value and potential of geothermal energy. Together, they hosted a competition for high school and university students to create infographics.

There were over 100 teams comprising of two to three students that entered the competition, and a committee of engineers, energy experts, and creative professionals selected the winners.

This year, the grand prize winner for the Geothermal Design Challenge was Infinity Below, a team composed of Carnegie Mellon students. The students, Marisa Lu, Tiffany Lai and Susie Lee, are sophomores in the School of Design.

“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and led the environmental club back in high school, as well as campaigning with Environment Maryland and the Maryland Public Interest Research Group on related policies,” Lu said in a university press release. “When I heard about this competition, I jumped on the opportunity to combine my personal passions and past experiences.”

“Personally, I believe our infographic had an edge because we addressed all sorts of energy sources. This way, we showed the audience what the information we were giving was up against,” Lai said in an interview with The Tartan.

Lee used this opportunity to spread the word about alternative energy sources.

“Nature provides us with so much energy, why do we have to keep using nonrenewable ones like fossil fuels?” Lee said in the press release.

“Getting other people aware of the resources that surround us is one step closer to being not so dependent on sources that won’t be able to provide for much longer. Energy is the provider for function in our society. Why not fuel it for something that is clean both ethically and environmentally?”

In an interview with The Tartan, Lu agreed with her teammate.

“I think energy is a topic that needs to be communicated better because it is what enables us to have the lifestyles that we do, yet it’s something we never give a second thought to until there’s something wrong with it,” Lu said.

Their winning design was an infographic entitled, “Our Energy Future? A Down to Earth Solution,” with a landscape depicting energy from the sun to the core of the earth.

“As I understand it, energy plays a big role in how societies function, and subsequently influences what sort of long term relationship we have with our environment,” Lu said in an interview with The Tartan. “Geothermal energy has not only great potential to reshape that relationship, but also to positively impact our international policies and socioeconomic landscape. The ideal future energy landscape is one that has just as much breadth in positive impacts. An ideal future energy scape would be one that cultivates good environmental stewardship, creates thousands of new jobs, and revitalizes the economy while providing cheap, American grown energy that we can trust to be clean and available for many generations to come.”

The infographic starts with a percentage distribution of the current United States electricity generation sources. Geothermal energy is currently the least used energy source, at 0.4 percent, and coal is currently the most used energy source at 38.7 percent. The infographic moves to types of sources for electricity in the United States in 2050, claiming that geothermal won’t expand until technology makes it more cost effective upfront.

The infographic then moves to the operation cost of geothermal versus other energy sources, stating that geothermal has stable prices because it doesn’t need foreign fuel to operate.

“I think something risky our team decided to do was incorporate information about other types of energy, so that our infographic wasn’t only focused on geothermal energy,” Lai said in the press release. “We wanted to be realistic. We depicted statistics about current energy sources and what their status would be in the future.”

“In the visual storytelling of our infographic, we all agreed that while we had separate/different info blurbs to emphasize, we needed them to still be able to come together to form a bigger picture for both informational and visual coherence,” Lu told The Tartan.

“From a selling point, we believed an infographic that forms one picture overall catches the viewers attention faster without turning them off with too much text. It’s what I believe set our infographic apart; ours is easy to view and glean information from at varying distances. So even the uninterested, unengaged viewer, would be able to get something out of it because the information we provide doesn’t need text to be understood.”

The infographic ends with the claim, “With potential to make positive impact economically, socially, environmentally, and research racing to make Enhanced Geothermal Systems cost effective, where do you see our future?”

All three students credit the School of Design in helping prepare them for this competition.

“I am happy and grateful to have been able to contribute towards working to this ideal while being able to apply the skills learned in school,” Lu said in an interview with The Tartan.

“It was quite nice to see a reminder of why I am incredibly grateful and happy to be a CMU design student,” Lu continued. “The competition experience involved everything I loved from reading up on the current energy climate to organizing the informational hierarchy to having fun playing with the nuances in the color theme - the process I feel really reflected the type of bigger picture designing and process emphasized curriculum CMU Design cultivates in students.”

“Winning this challenge made me proud to represent Carnegie Mellon Design,” Lai said in an interview with The Tartan. “It also encouraged me to create or join more design challenges, because participating in this one was a fun and rewarding journey.”

The top three teams received a cash prize of $2500 each. Since Lu, Lai, and Lee won the grand prize, they will also receive a trip to the Geothermal Resource Council’s 40th Annual Meeting on Oct. 23-26 in Sacramento, California to present their infographic.