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BubbleBox Project Wins First in Paris Contest

By Karina G. Gonzalez-Espinoza and Kanishk A. Mittal, Crimson Staff Writers

BubbleBox, a portable hygiene module created by a team that includes Harvard students, won first place at Talents #Paris2024 earlier this year.

The project aims to provide migrants, refugees, and homeless persons with free showers and washing machines. BubbleBox uses solar power to recycle about 90 percent of the water used while showering.

Talents #Paris2024 is a competition meant to encourage innovation among Parisians aged 16 to 24. The top prize included a €25,000 grand prize. Arkam M. Javed ’20, one of the members of the team, said the group plans to invest the money in research and development in hopes of creating a prototype.

The project's inception came during The Biopolis, a summer school program in Paris that focuses on biology, urbanism, and social innovation. The program is a collaboration between Harvard, the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity, SciencesPo, and the City of Paris.

At The Biopolis, Christina M. Bear ’20 and Javed joined forces with two Sciences Po students. The team spent the summer conducting research before presenting their idea to the Paris City Council. Benjamin H. Lee ’19 joined the group in the fall.

Javed said the team became inspired to create the Bubble Box after visiting a refugee camp. At the camp, the group saw the extent to which the residents of the camp lacked access to resources needed to maintain proper hygiene. Further research revealed that, on average in these types of camps, only one sink is available to 700 people, and that in some places refugees face scabies outbreaks.

“Seeing refugees living in such horrid conditions in a developed country like France shocked us and so when it came time for our team to design a project in line with one or more of the UN sustainable development goals, we were certain we wanted to do something for refugees,” Javed said.

Robert A. Lue, professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard and co-founder of The Biopolis, declared himself a fan of the module. He wrote in an email that BubbleBox is a perfect example of the kind of work the program wanted students to produce.

“It was one of my favorite projects from this summer; creative and beautifully tailored to the needs of an underserved population in a mobile way that meets them where they are, literally," Lue wrote. "The additional aspects related to water and energy conservation make it even more compelling and aligned with the goals of sustainable living."

Looking forward, Javed said the goal is to conduct a test run in France.

“Our goal is to launch our modules in Northern Paris and then expand from there. Hopefully we can make Bubblebox a reality,” he said.

—Staff writer Karina G Gonzalez-Espinoza can be reached at karina.gonzalez-espinoza@thecrimson.com.

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