NCSSM-Durham's Team FloodGate, left to right: George Cheng, faculty sponsor Larry Myers, Reichen Schaller, Shubhan Bhattacharya, and Sumedh Kotrannavar. (photo provided by Larry Myers)


NCSSM-Durham team celebrates Earth Day by taking home top prize in international environmental sustainability competition

A student team from NCSSM has won the 2024 Earth Prize competition, a global environmental sustainability competition for high school students. The team’s web-based application, FloodGate, utilizes geographic elevation data and AI to predict flooding and was chosen as the top project from more than 800 schools across 117 countries and territories who participated in the competition.

Team members leapt to their feet and cheered when they learned by live videoconference that they had emerged from the 10 finalist teams as the overall winner. Larry Myers, an engineering instructor who sponsored the students and their project and helped guide them to their finalist position, raised his arms and pumped his fists.

“It was really a complete surprise to us,” says junior Shubhan Bhattacharya. “I mean, the Earth Prize is a really prestigious competition, and there were a lot of great teams competing who had done some amazing work for the environment.”

Shubhan and his teammates Sumedh Kotrannavar (junior), George Cheng (senior), and Reichen Schaller (senior), all NCSSM-Durham Residential students, watched the live streamed awards announcement from a classroom in the school’s engineering wing Monday, April 22. 

All finalist teams worked with multiple advisors to help them prepare for the final competition; for Team FloodGate, one of them was Dr. Jonathan Baillie, the President and Chair of the Board for Natural State, a conservation organization in Kenya. Baillie was previously Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist at the National Geographic Society and Director of Conservation Programmes at the Zoological Society of London.

“I would like to congratulate the NCSSM team for winning the Earth Prize,” Dr. Baillie said. “When I spoke to the team in preparation for the finals, I was impressed with their dedication, deep knowledge on the topic and commitment to develop technology that has the potential to save millions of lives.”

Working with Dr. Baillie was a highlight of the final stages of the competition, says Reichen Schaller. “It was amazing,” he says. “Dr. Baillie’s experience in the environmental research area is incredible and he really provided us with a lot of insight into implementing environmental technology, which is something we don’t have experience in yet. That was a fantastic opportunity.”

With the competition over, Team FloodGate hopes the exposure will lead to opportunities to partner with local, national, or international organizations and communities that will help them further refine their technology and move it closer to wide-spread implementation in the field. 

Team FloodGate secured a $50,000 prize, to be split in half between the team and their school while the three runner-up schools will be awarded $12,500.