Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA)

2015 Dow SISCA competition winners Tessie Panthani, Debbie Schneiderman, Alex Mannion and Marie Vanderlaan. Photo by Brian Bell

Graduate students: Are you up for a challenge? The Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA), a program of IonE and the Dow Chemical Company, recognizes and rewards students and universities for innovation and research that encourages and promotes sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

See the Challenge Rules for guidelines for submission.

Applications will be accepting starting in fall 2016. Check back soon for updates!

Submission Criteria

A winning submission must

  • exhibit potential for solving world challenges in alignment with the spirit of Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goals
  • be interdisciplinary (applied sciences, engineering, economics, public policy, social studies, business etc.)
  • involve innovative thinking and excellence in research

Award Details

Awards include a $10,000 grand prize and a $2,500 runner-up prize.


For more information contact Fred Rose ( or visit the challenge website.


Dow launched SISCA in 2009 to promote forward thinking in social and environmental responsibility. See the most recent University of Minnesota results.


To ensure a more sustainable future, it’s essential we promote and cultivate fresh ideas, innovative thinking and sustainable practices that balance environmental, societal and economic decisions. SISCA advances sustainable development, helping further our commitment to create positive change for tomorrow. Key areas of research may include but are not limited to climate change, energy efficiency and conservation, human health and environment, product safety, circular economy, breakthrough innovations, sustainable chemistry, chemical technology.


Applicants must be enrolled graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Former SISCA winners are not eligible to participate. SISCA acknowledges the energy, commitment and enthusiasm of University of Minnesota students and the professors, sponsors and facilitators who support their sustainability innovations and efforts in continued excellence.


SISCA is an annual competition that begins in the fall term.  Final presentations and announcement of winners will occur December 3, 2015 at the Institute on the Environment, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota.

2015 Dow SISCA Competition

A project aimed at developing polyurethane foam that can be recycled has won the Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award competition held Dec. 3 at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in St. Paul.

The award, made possible by a collaboration between IonE and the Dow Chemical Company, recognizes and rewards students and universities for innovation and research that encourages and promotes sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental problems. The competition is open to full-time graduate and professional students enrolled at all campuses of the University of Minnesota. This year’s award was presented to a team of four Ph.D. candidates in the University’s College of Science and Engineering.

“Polyurethane foams are useful and important materials that are utilized in a range of applications including mattresses, seat cushions and home insulation,” says Tessie Panthani, project team member and chemical engineering and materials science Ph.D. candidate. “Unfortunately, the majority of polyurethane foams are derived from nonrenewable resources, do not degrade in the environment, and have chemical structures that preclude these materials from being recycled by melt reprocessing.”

To address those limitations, the winning team, which also includes Alex Mannion, Debbie Schneiderman and Marie Vanderlaan, developed a polyol — the main building block for polyurethane foam — made from renewable sources that can degrade into environmentally benign products or be recycled, creating a closed-loop life cycle.

The winning project was one of 24 submitted to the University’s Dow SISCA challenge, one of 18 such competitions around the world. Judges were from Dow Chemical, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services and the University of Minnesota.

The runner-up, Gabriel Al-Ghalith — a biomedical informatics and computational biology student in the BioTechnology Institute — received $2,500 for developing techniques that use microbes as environmental and geochemical sensors.

Other finalists were:

Snober Ahmed (bioproducts and biosystems science, engineering and management, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences) — Selenium Nanomaterials and Devices for Mercury Removal from Water and Gas Flue

John Brockgreitens (BBSE, CFANS) — Food Packaging Sensors for Continuous Monitoring of Food Spoilage

Abhirup Datta (biostatistics, School of Public Health) and Farideh Fazayeli (computer science, CSE) — Global Mapping of Plant Traits

Lauren Jackson (plant pathology, CFANS) — Characterization and Optimization of Ligninolytic Systems to Improve Human and Environmental Health

Peter T. Krenzke and Stephen J. Sedler (mechanical engineering, CSE) — Solar Fuels From Water and Carbon Dioxide via the Ceria Redox Cycle

Maria Kristine McClintock (chemical engineering, CSE) — Developing a Portfolio of Value-added Monomers from Fermentation of Lignocellulosic Feedstocks

Matthew Overby (computer science, CSE) — Efficient Simulation of Urban Heat Transfer

Hao Tian (mechanical engineering, CSE) — Variable Timing Active Valve Technology and “Steer-by-Wire” Valve Operation for Energy Efficient Fluid Power Systems

The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment seeks lasting solutions to Earth’s biggest challenges through research, partnerships and leadership development. For more information on IonE, visit For more information on the Dow SISCA program, see

Past competition finalists