Microbial Fuel Cell, Space Station, and Electronic Guide: Finals of Quantoriada Competition

The final round of the Quantoriada international engineering competition for school children has recently kicked off in St. Petersburg’s Planetarium. It’s up to participants to decide what kind of device they want to develop; this year, they could choose between a space station, a drawing robot, an electronic guide, a microbial fuel cell, and other valuable devices. ITMO University’s SCAMT Laboratory has provided a platform for the competition. In this interview with ITMO.NEWS, the participants share their thoughts about the contest and the importance of the devices they’re currently working on.

More pictures: https://scamt.ifmo.ru/ru/about/media/foto/kvantoriada-itmo-2019.html

Quantoriada is a science and engineering competition for school students that consists of three rounds: first, participants solve theoretical tasks individually, then they’re divided into teams and work together in the chosen track remotely, and then comes the final round during which children complete their projects and present their achievements to the jury. The prize fund is one million rubles.

This year, the competition was held in two rounds: first, participants had to develop a prototype of their chosen device, record a video and send it to the competition’s jury. If they did well, they were admitted to the final round, during which they were given three days to complete their developments.

It is at ITMO University’s SCAMT Laboratory where the students are currently working on their device, a microbial fuel cell (MFC), a biotechnological system that transforms the energy of chemical reactions into electrical energy by using bacteria. Like any other fuel cell, MFC is a very powerful device, however, unlike other fuel elements, it can use the energy of wastewater, which makes it highly efficient, both economically and environment-wise.

“All participants have received identical sets of microbial fuel cells. All they have to do is to make it work. They have three days to complete the task. At home, they worked with various types of bacteria and microbial fuel elements of their own choice. We wanted them to understand the general principle of MFC, its construction and characteristics, and then use this knowledge during the final round. They will also present the prototypes they came up with by the end of the first round and share about their progress. As I have already mentioned, the main task of the final round is to come up with a working solution,” explains the competition's coordinator Ivan Riazanov.

Yaroslava Timirbaeva and Yaroslava Mikheeva, VIINELTEAM team, 9-11th grade, Penza

We were given only one task: to develop a microbial fuel cell. Simply speaking, a MFC consists of two chambers: we put bacteria in the first chamber and water in the second, and bacteria produce electrical current. Nowadays, this is one of the most eco-friendly energy production methods. This is a general tendency, and microbial fuel cells also fall into this trend. What’s remarkable is that there’s only one patent in this field so far, which opens up lots of opportunities. It’s even more interesting for us this way, as we can try to come up with something new.

Before launching into developing our prototype, we studied a lot of materials on the topic. Thanks to this research, we learned about what types of MFC are there and created our own. By the way, we decided not to use sophisticated equipment; we even bought some parts in Auchan, and it didn’t prevent us from making the thing work and produce energy. We wanted to make our device as simple as possible and prove that you don’t necessarily have to invest lots of money into your project to succeed.

Denis Kadochnikov, 11th grade, D.F. team, the MEPhI Lyceum, Moscow


Our team is made up of 11th-grade students of the MEPhI Lyceum, and it were our teachers who suggested that we should take part in the Quantoriada competition. We’re really enjoying ourselves here. Even though this is a competition for school children, we work in real laboratories on real equipment. Isn’t it exciting?

Construction of a microbial fuel cell is part of a bigger project that today’s world-class scientists are working on. Their objective is to make the world a better place, however abstract it may sound. Our projects at Quantoriada are part of the bigger picture. Today, scientists struggle to find a way to produce ecologically clean energy. There are some well-known sources of renewable energy such as solar energy, or wave power, but there are also some that very few people know about. For example, half a year ago I would never think that bacteria could produce electrical energy.

During the first round, we developed and assembled about 50 devices of different types. The thing is that it takes a pretty long time to come up with something really good: some devices leak or break down, some work for two months, and others for two days. It also took us a lot of time to analyze our results, but we really enjoyed the process. None of us had done anything like this before, so we were all very curious. I’m more of a techy myself, but this project made me realize that biology can also be very interesting. Besides, while working on this project, I saw a different side of many of my classmates I didn’t have much of a chance to interact previously. The project really drew us together.

Vasilisa Vasina, BIO13 team, 9th grade, Saransk’s Technopark

Our technopark is about two years old. The studies last for two and a half years. It’s comprised of several departments such as Bioquantum, Aeroquantum, Energyquantum, etc. Our team is made up of three people and we are all from the Bioquantum department. This is our second time taking part in this competition; the first one was last year.

The development process took us about five months. We changed our design three times. We experimented with different kinds of bacteria, from bakery yeast to some more sophisticated strains.

Victoria Petryakova, Simbiota team, 9th grade, Voronezh

The most difficult part was coordination between team members, but we managed and made it to the finals. We’ve been working on the prototype since May.

All the teams did something of their own depending on what they’re most interested in. For example, we worked with one-chamber microbial fuel cells but also tried using two-chamber ones. So when it turned out that at the finals we had to work with two-chamber cells we were ready.

Savva Marin, MO&LESS team, 9th grade, Cheboksary

There are seven people in our team. The biggest challenge for us was to make our construction hermetically sealed; it always leaked. We succeeded eventually by enhancing it with a rubber layer. The task we’re working on now is identical to the one we were solving during the first round but a little bit more complicated.

Every person in our team has their own role. We have two biologists, a programmer, physical scientists, and mathematicians. We’ll need all these competencies to assemble the device.

(author Daria Sofina)