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Jekabs Hayes awarded inaugural TerraCycle innovation award

Mechanical engineering major Jekabs Hayes ’20 was awarded TerraCycle’s first annual Ernel Simpson Innovation Award for incorporating sustainable practices in his senior project. Hayes earned a $500 stipend to cover his research.

Hayes teamed up with fellow seniors Peter Stahl and Christopher Garr and his advisor, George Facas of the mechanical engineering department, to construct a prototype of a small, semi-portable system that uses solar panel-generated electricity to turn salt water into desalinated drinking water.

As team leader, Hayes pushed to take their already environmentally sustainable project to the next level.

“In the spirit of both Dr. Simpson and TerraCycle, our prototype was constructed in part using what most people consider ‘trash’ or ‘waste,’” says Hayes.

Hayes and his team used wiring from obsolete electrical equipment, wood from discarded furniture, and screws from previous design projects. Hayes even went dumpster-diving for a wheel on a discarded l filing cabinet.

Hayes says he is “proud and thrilled” to be the first recipient of the Ernel Simpson Innovation Award.

“TCNJ’s School of Engineering senior design project program was one of the key reasons I decided to change majors [from business],” says Hayes “I can happily say I fulfilled one of my goals from freshman year when I set out to change majors: take part in a meaningful senior project.” Although he is immensely grateful for this award, Hayes says his teammates deserve just as much recognition for their role in this important project. “The project is without a doubt a group effort. We either swim together or sink together,” he says.

All TCNJ engineering students currently working on senior design projects related to environmental sustainability were eligible for the award. Hayes submitted a personal statement describing his efforts to make his senior project more sustainable as well as his resume and a letter of recommendation.

The Ernel Simpson Award is named after TerraCycle’s chief scientist.

“The award was named after our dear Dr. Ernie Simpson for his ability to simplify the complex and develop groundbreaking ways to process everything from chewing gum to cigarette butts to dirty diapers to construction adhesives,” says Liana Scobie, vice president of staff and administration at TerraCycle.

TerraCycle offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers around the world to help collect and recycle hard-to-recycle waste.


— Sarah Voorhees ’20

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