URBANA – An old computer returns to life as a hydroponic mini-farm, with a monitor filling in as a grow-light.
Perfect for a long space flight, with astronauts in deep sleep, the computer adjusts water, feed and lights, and tells you when the lettuce is ready to harvest.
Another pile of old computers – the floppy drives are a dead giveaway – is linked together to make a small supercomputer. Almost nothing in the project costs out-of-pocket money; even the operating system is open-source.
The cluster of computers, called "Centuria," was created by the team of Brian Weick, Drew Henkels and Joseph Moormann.
"We came up with a conceptual design to push the technology farther" with limited materials, Moormann said.
That was Thursday's Sustainable E-Waste Student Design Competition at the University of Illinois, where electronics rescued from the garbage dump – and from our air and water supplies – were reconnected to new uses and users.
The computers, monitors, keyboards, printers, keyboards, mice, scanners and cell phones are rehabilitated into useful life, said William C. Bullock, a UI professor of industrial design.
"Next year we want this to be an international event," he said.
Several major corporations donated more than $15,000 in tuition support awards for prizes.
The jury consisted of computer experts from Walmart, Dell, Motorola Mobile Devices, the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.
Five tons of electronic waste, enough to fill 200 cars, were donated on Feb. 21 to support the Sustainable E-Waste Student Design Competition.
What would have happened to them had they not become art?
"The problem is, most of these things cannot be repaired," and have a short useful life, Bullock said.
They would fill up your local landfills, leaching into the water supply. Or they would be sold to underdeveloped nations, Bullock said.
There, he said, they would be burned in open pits to recover precious elements like gold.
Burning them would release dioxins as a by-product of melting plastic cabinets, Bullock said.
Graduate student Marissa Dolin, an event organizer, said first place in the Artist/Designer category went to the team of Teddy Lu, David Goldman, Bart Liang and Dave Cervantes.
The gold for Technical/geek went to team members Emily Carroll, Brett Phillips, Kevin Bayci and Aarti Jayanth.
On the Web
Sustainable E-Waste Student Design Competition: http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/