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UVA Creativity and Innovation Highlighted at ACCelerate Festival

From October 13–15 UVA will be participating in the ACCelerate Festival at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington D.C. As an effort to think beyond an athletic conference as the only common denominator, this festival is focused on presenting the wealth of creativity and innovation that is taking place at all the ACC Schools. Here's an overview of the four projects and one performance that UVA faculty and students are presenting. 

Yamuna River Project

Yamuna River project image

The Yamuna River Project is a multi-year research collaboration between the Delhi Jal Board and the University of Virginia. The Yamuna River Project capitalizes on current conversations within the government to place riverfront restoration and development at the forefront of national consciousness. This research and vision exercise is based upon a collaborative methodology intended to facilitate a wide-ranging discourse, resulting in a series of multi-disciplinary solutions to restore the ecological and urban health of the Yamuna River.

Originating from the Lower Himalayas, the Yamuna River, the largest tributary of the Ganges, is a vital resource for the rapidly growing capital city of New Delhi. The Yamuna supplies the city of New Delhi with much of its drinking water, channeled from the river by a network of pipes at the Wazirabad barrage. Within the space of a few kilometers, so much untreated sewage and other toxic effluent are dumped into the Yamuna that the water is rendered “dead,” posing serious health hazards to the citizenry of New Delhi. Teeming with a rapidly increasing population and a fraying network of urban infrastructure, New Delhi has severed all spatial links to the Yamuna.

Led by professor Inaki Alday and professor Pankaj Vir Gupta, faculty at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, the multidisciplinary teams have proposed designs for the Najafgarh Drain, facilitating access to improved mobility within the city, revitalization and public access to the culturally and ecologically vital Najafgarh Drain linking to the Yamuna River, improved infrastructure, access to sustainable sources of potable water, improved air quality, and linking of archeological sites flanking the river’s western edge. The resultant design propositions propose a series of site-specific speculations, re-establishing the Yamuna River as a geographical center vital to the existence of the citizens of New Delhi.


PureMadi image

PureMadi has been created by an interdisciplinary collaboration of students and faculty at the University of Virginia. In partnership with the University of Venda in Thohoyandou, South Africa; Rotary International; and developing-world communities in Limpopo Province, South Africa, PureMadi is working to provide sustainable solutions to global water problems.

Their first project is the development of a sustainable, ceramic water filter facility in South Africa. Ceramic filters are a point-of-use (e.g, household-level) water treatment technology. Ceramic filters can be produced with local materials (clay, sawdust, and water) and local labor. The materials are mixed in appropriate proportions, pressed into the shape of a filter pot, and fired in a kiln at 900 ˚C. Upon firing, the clay forms a ceramic and the sawdust combusts, leaving a porous ceramic matrix for filtration. In addition the filters are treated with a dilute solution of silver nanoparticles. The nanoparticles lodge in the pore space of the ceramic matrix and act as a highly effective disinfectant for waterborne pathogens like Vibrio cholerae and pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli. Untreated water can then be passed through the filter and collected in a lower reservoir with a spigot to obtain purified water.

This technology has been demonstrated to be highly effective at purifying water, and the filters are socially acceptable to developing-world communities. They have shown that the filters significantly improve the health outcomes of human populations using the filters relative to groups who only drink untreated water.

A filter facility can become a sustainable business venture that provides economic stimulus to the local community. Their goal is to create a blueprint for a successful facility, including its architecture, efficiency of water and energy use, technological performance of the filter itself, and an effective and sustainable business model. The research has also spun out a for-profit company, MadiDrop, for widespread distribution of the technical innovation in a different form. The all-natural M-Drop disinfects household drinking water without chemically altering the taste and smell. This small tablet destroys waterborne pathogens and protects families against illness and disease.


Batoid rays, such as stingrays and manta rays, are among nature's most elegant swimmers. They are fast, highly maneuverable, graceful, and energy-efficient and can cruise, bird-like, for long distances in the deep, open ocean and rest on the sea bottom. Hilary Bart-Smith, a professor in the University of Virginia Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and her colleagues at three other universities are trying to emulate the seemingly effortless but powerful swimming motions of rays by engineering their own ray-like machine modeled on nature.

They are designing an "autonomous underwater vehicle" called the Mantabot that someday may surpass what nature has provided as a model. The vehicle has potential commercial and military applications and could be used for undersea exploration and scientific research. Sometimes called bio-mimicry—the attempt to copy nature—Bart-Smith calls her work "bio-inspired."

"We are studying a creature to understand how it is able to swim so beautifully, and we are hoping to improve upon it," she said. "We are learning from nature, but we also are innovating; trying to move beyond emulation."

The team members, who are experts in marine biology, biomechanics, structures, hydrodynamics, and control systems, have created a prototype molded directly from a real cow-nosed ray. By studying the motions of living rays in the field and in the laboratory and through dissection, this prototype attempts to replicate the near-silent flaps of the wing-like pectoral fins of a ray to swim forward, turn, accelerate, glide, and maintain position. "Biology has solved the problem of locomotion with these animals, so we have to understand the mechanisms if we are going to not only copy how the animal swims, but possibly even to improve upon it," Bart-Smith said. Her team is trying to achieve optimal silent propulsion with a minimum input of energy.

The mechanical ray is remotely controlled by researchers via computer commands. The plastic body of the vehicle contains electronics and a battery, while the flexible silicone wings contain rods and cables that expand, retract, and change shape to facilitate what is essentially underwater flight.

Bart-Smith's ultimate goal is to engineer a vehicle that would operate autonomously and could be deployed for long periods of time to collect undersea data for scientists or as a surveillance tool for the military. It also could be scaled up or down to serve as a platform carrying various payloads, such as environmental monitoring instruments. For example, it possibly could be used for pollution monitoring, such as tracking the locations of underwater oil spills, and because the vehicle looks and behaves like a common sea creature, it likely would operate in the sea without affecting natural creatures or their habitats.

The Mantabot research team includes: Hilary Bart-Smith, Frank Fish, Joseph Zhu, Ruijie Zhu, Qiang Zhong, and Carl White.


#CarbonFeed directly challenges the popular notion that virtuality is disconnected from reality. Through sonifying Twitter feeds and correlating individual tweets with physical, ephemeral traces of air released into water, the work reveals the environmental cost of online behavior and its supportive physical infrastructure.

#CarbonFeed works by taking in realtime tweets from Twitter users around the world. Based on a customizable set of hashtags, the work listens for specific tweets. The content of these incoming tweets generates a realtime sonic composition. An installation-based visual counterpart of compressed air being pumped through tubes of water further provides a physical manifestation of each tweet.

With the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, humans have increased their production of digital content. Even simple online interactions generate carbon emissions; a Google search has been estimated to generate 0.2 grams of CO2. To keep pace with growing online media, there is an increasing dependence upon data centers, which now account for two percent of the U.S.’s electricity consumption.

#CarbonFeed research team is comprised of Jon Bellona (University of Virgina graduate student in Arts & Sciences), John Park, and Rob Mertens.

Ceiling Floats Away

Ceiling Floats Away was commissioned by an NEA Art Works Grant and premiered in 2016 at the Atlas Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The piece features Matthew Burtner’s musical settings of 13 poems by Rita Dove. Burtner recorded Dove reading her poetry and wrote the music to the pace and cadence of the poet’s voice. The piece can be performed with Dove’s recorded voice or the poetry can be read live with the instrumental ensemble. Instrumentation includes flute/piccolo, Bb soprano saxophone or Bb clarinet, soprano voice, piano, and cello.

Performers: Matthew Burtner, Travis Thatcher, Lisa Edwards-Burrs, John Mayhood, Kelly Sulick, Shawn Earle, and Kevin Davis