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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Li takes first place in Tech Idol competition

Qilin Li, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University, won first place in the Tech Idol competition held at the American Water Summit 2016. The competition identifies innovative ideas to help utilities and industrial water users increase water efficiency.

Her presentation was titled “Nanophotonics enhanced solar membrane distillation (NESMD): towards low cost desolation and water purification.” Li was one of six presenters from universities and national laboratories who pitched ideas to an expert panel, after which the audience voted on the idea they thought would make the best investment.

“In the past, people who participated in the competition were usually companies. This year, the focus was on early-stage technologies. There was no monetary prize, just recognition by investors, engineering and consulting companies, technology companies and utilities. Many of the previous participants have succeeded in commercializing their technologies and developing successful businesses,” she said.

Li earned her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and joined the Rice faculty in 2006. She serves as associate director for research for the NSF’s Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT) and chair of the International Water Association’s Nano&Water Specialty Group management committee, and is a member of the U.S. EPA’s Science Advisory Board’s Environmental Engineering Committee.

Li was assisted in the engineering portion of her presentation by Seth Pederson, a second-year graduate student in CEE, and in the business portion by Jane Henry and Alfonso Galindo, MBA candidates in the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, and Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

Collaborating with Li on her on her direct solar membrane distillation research are the laboratories of Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, professor of biomedical engineering, of chemistry, and of physics and astronomy; and Peter Nordlander, the Wiess Chair and professor of Physics and Astronomy, of electrical and computer engineering, and of materials science and nanoengineering.

The American Water Summit was held Dec. 5-7 in Miami.

Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications