MNE team wins grand prize for water-saving, impactful tech

April 26, 2018

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - When Birgitt Boschitsch was given one minute to pitch her research team’s project in the 2018 Allegheny Cleantech University Prize Collegiate Competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, she knew she needed to capture the audience’s attention right away.

So when she took the stage at Carnegie Mellon University, the doctoral student studying mechanical engineering at Penn State simply stated, “Poop is a serious problem. And it’s an especially big problem when it comes to water conservation, energy, and health.”

She explained that traditional toilets use a significant and unnecessary amount of clean water, a resource that is sorely needed in many communities around the world. But Boschitsch, Jing Wang, Nan Sun, doctoral students in mechanical engineering, and Tak-Sing Wong, the Wormley Family Early Career professor and assistant professor of mechanical engineering, have a solution.

Through their research in the Penn State Department of Mechanical and Engineering, they’ve created a liquid-entrenched smooth surface (LESS) coating, an innovative spray-able, anti-fouling coating that can be applied to toilet and sanitation facilities. Developed by Wang, the technical lead of the project, it dramatically decreases the amount of water needed when flushing a toilet.

The pitch worked; the team won the grand prize of $50,000 to commercially develop their product. They have been working closely with their business mentor, Tim Hurley, who has provided valuable guidance to refine and develop their business ideas and strategy. They are now working through the TechCelerator program, an entrepreneurial incubator offered through Invent Penn State. With the awarded funds, the researchers plan to incorporate their company, and begin testing their product at Penn State facilities.

By significantly reducing water consumption, this impactful tech could be adopted to save millions of gallons of water every day that can be directed towards other important activities or to drought-stricken areas or to regions experiencing chronic water scarcity. Even in communities with access to clean water like Penn State, the use of this product would conserve precious resources and provide cost-savings.

Wang explained, “This project will not only help us to reduce water bills and create a cleaner and healthier bathroom experience, but it also will change the way we solve a problem that has existed for a very long time.”

In addition to coating toilets, the application of this technology can also be used in different scenarios to increase the availability of clean water.

Emboldened by their engineering education, the team is excited to continue developing their product. As Boschitsch explained, “To me, a career in engineering is a platform for creating impactful technologies and addressing the pressing technical issues in the world.”

Boschitsch added, “We hope to bring this technology to the mass market so that everyone can benefit!”


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


Erin Cassidy Hendrick

“This project will not only help us to reduce water bills and create a cleaner and healthier bathroom experience, but it also will change the way we solve a problem that has existed for a very long time.” - Jing Wang



With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 1,000 undergraduate students, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering embraces a culture that welcomes individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty and students are innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Mechanical Engineering

137 Reber Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2519