UCSB inventor is an undergraduate finalist in collegiate competition
Visala Tallavarjula’s irrigation innovations have impressed the judges.
The UCSB senior, who developed a way to boost both water conservation and efficiency, is an undergraduate finalist in the Collegiate Inventors Competition.
The environmental studies major’s project is an irrigation system that would increase efficiency while conserving water. She has been researching this project for about seven years, beginning her research the summer before she started high school.
“My project is an irrigation improvement project with three innovations in one,” Ms. Tallavarjula told the News-Press.
“The first innovation is a topsoil bed made of perlite-amended mixture,” she said. “When you put it above the root zone of the plants and irrigate below the surface, it saves up to 30% of water used in the irrigation.
“The second innovation is an insert — a cylindrical plastic pipe fitted to the emitter on a drip tube used to irrigate plants,” Ms. Tallavarjula explained. “The insert can be connected to the emitter and brings water from the emitter to the root zone of the plant. Since it passes by the topsoil layer, it allows for the water to stay at the root zone and not go past the top layer.
“There is no need for an irrigation system below the topsoil bed,” she said.
“The third invitation is PCL (percolation control layer): soil layer amended with 33% coarse grain charcoal, which helps prevent much percolation (water moving downwards due to gravity),” Ms. Tallavarjula said. “Percolation goes into the groundwater system, which should be prevented if we want to extract water from the groundwater system.
“These three innovations conserve about 50% of water used in irrigation and show a 50% increase in crop fields using this method as well as improved root plant health,” Ms.Tallavarajula told the News-Press.
“The reason why I have three innovations is I invented each of them separately for the reason that a lot of farmers in developing countries or developing regions are uneasy about changing irrigation and farming systems,” she said. “Most agriculture is produced in these regions by these farmers.
“We must go into these regions with an open mind and gradual change,” Ms. Tallavarajula said. “These innovations used alongside gravity-fed drip irrigation are not much of a cost difference or differentiation from current irrigation.”
Experts predict that over the next 25 years, global food demand will increase by 70%, leading to more water usage.
Ms. Tallavarajula’s system is designed to efficiently use water. Her project mimics subsurface irrigation, where water is brought to the root zone of plants and doesn’t evaporate or percolate.
Ms. Tallavarajula explained what inspired her irrigation project.
“ I was traveling through the Central Valley with my family prior to high school and saw a lot of sprinkler systems,” she said, referring to the waste of water. “Farms are not conserving water on such a large scale that it contributes to the drought, yet no one seems to be addressing it.
“My first innovation was the topsoil layer,” Ms. Tallavarajula said. “I used research to create my own design of things less expensive and adaptable to farmers who are not high-tech or do not want to change current technology.”
Ms. Tallavarajula addressed how her invention benefits agriculture and irrigation. “When there is arable land we can stop the spread of desertification. That’s really exciting. The population is growing and we need to produce more food.
“My project saves a lot of water,” Ms. Tallavarajula said. “A lot of countries charge for the use of water. If there were farmers being charged, this is very beneficial for them.”
She also noted that plants irrigated with her system are healthier.
Ms. Tallavarajula said that if her project wins the Collegiate Inventors Competition, “people all over the world, particularly farmers who don’t have as many resources available to them to irrigate their crops, would have the opportunity to receive help through my project. A patent would allow me to bring my project to other people without it being stolen.
“Receiving the prize would allow me to jumpstart a project and create a tiered company,” she said. “However, I think everyone has a project worthy of winning.”
Ms. Tallavarajula and the other finalists will present their inventions on Oct. 12 to final-round judges composed of inductees to the National Inventors Hall of Fame and officials from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The competition will take place at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Alexandria, Va.
The winning teams will be announced on Oct. 13.
“There is a crucial need for us all to invest in the next generation of world-changing inventors,” Kathi Vidal, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO, said in a news release. “The USPTO is honored to recognize the amazing work of the finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, where the future of American innovation is on display.”
Ms. Tallavarajula said she’s excited about being one of the five undergraduate finalists, as well as the only team with just one member.
She added she’s looking forward to meeting the USPTO officials. “It will be fun to pick their brains on applying for patents.”