STEM-In-Action Spotlight: Brainiacs with Blue

Making a Difference in Your Community

The U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) STEM-In-Action Grant awards eCYBERMISSION teams up to $5,000 to develop their projects into mature and scalable solutions in their community.  

In 2018, we awarded 5 teams a STEM-in-Action Grant. We love talking about their work and highlighting the impact they have in their neighborhood. This week, we are talking about Brainiacs with Blue.


Making Bioswales Communicate

We are Brainiacs with Blue, a neighborhood-based team from Portland, Oregon comprised of 8th graders attending Stoller Middle School.

You might be wondering what a bioswale is. Well, think of bioswales as large water filters that are built by the roadside as well as around the neighborhoods we live in. They are designed to collect rainwater and filter out chemicals and pollutants, like nitrates and phosphates, that have accumulated as it flows to the nearest stream or drain. Without this type of filtration, these phosphate rich compounds can make it to the streams and rivers and cause dense growth of plant life but also results in the death of animal life in the water bodies. Bioswales use several layers of materials comprising plants, gravel, mulch, and a filter sheet to filter.


Bioswales can last for around 20 to 50 years if they are maintained well. Littering, managing plant health, stagnant water, and clogged pipes are few of the maintenance challenges encountered. Currently, such maintenance is typically done by making periodic visits to inspect and address any issues. When we visited our local water treatment center, Clean Water Services, we learned that they check their bioswales 3 to 4 times a year. If there are no problems with the bioswale during a visit, it is essentially wasted time and money. In addition, if a problem occurs after a visit, the workers may not be able to address it until their next visit, which may be several months in the future.

We asked ourselves, what if a bioswale could communicate with you? When we looked at this question, we thought we could use sensors to help bioswales communicate with us. Plants are a critical part of bioswales and do the heavy lifting in terms of the filtration. As such, plant health is of utmost importance to keep the bioswale working efficiently. This is why we included a soil moisture sensor in our solution that can alert us if the plants don’t have enough moisture for their growth. We also noticed that pipe clogging is another common problem in bioswales. To address this, we included a water flow sensor to tell us when the flow of the filtered water is below normal, indicating that, potentially, something is blocking the flow of the water. This type of proactive alerting ensures that manual visits can be avoided unless there is an issue. Also, the bioswales can also get timely attention so that they are always working well to keep the harmful chemicals out of our streams and rivers.

We are excited to leverage the AEOP STEM-In-Action Grant to make key improvements to our solution such that it could be deployed in real bioswales. Some of the improvements we are working on include using wireless sensors that will allow implementation of the solution in bioswales of different sizes, exploring the use of solar energy to power the sensors and data collection mechanisms, and develop an app that can analyze the collected data and give a view into chronic issues as well as provide other insights that would be relevant to the local water treatment agencies. We will also work with CleanWater Services, our local water treatment facility, to explore the use of our solution in a real bioswale.

-Team Brainiacs with Blue


Keep up all the good work you’re doing, Brainiacs! We can’t wait for another update in a few months.

-Mission Control


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