Northrop Grumman Environmental Sustainability

Jul 23, 2022

Northrop Grumman and UMD host a collaborative annual competition in areas of high importance, ranging anywhere from Machine Learning to Cybersecurity. In 2022, the topic of interest was environmental sustainability. Per Northrop Grumman’s own description, the point of the game was to “develop an original concept for a product, service, software, or a combination of the three, in areas such as clean energy, water scarcity, food security…”

A joint team of three others and I designed an IoT stormwater management system to prevent runoff and flooding on residential properties. Here is the basic concept:

  • A residential property requests our product
  • We dig a swale (streambed) along their property that can hold a large quantity of water
  • Arduino/Raspberry Pi-controlled pumps cycle water down the swale in a cycle, which allows for the water to infiltrate into the ground
    • A Raspberry Pi runs a python script to gauge water levels and parse weather data, intelligently deciding which state the system should be in
  • The continued circulation prevents water from pooling and overflowing, protecting the residential property from flooding from excess runoff
  • The contained water takes a load off of regional stormwater drainage systems, and local governments may allow tax exemptions for environmental benefits

We placed first out of 12 teams that participated. In the most humble way possible, we knew we had a very strong chance of winning. We built the most robust prototype out of all of the other teams. A willing volunteer allowed us to use their property as a testing site, which we used to build a small-scale model of our product. Hours were spent on prototyping instead of just making a concept. We simulated different rainfall scenarios and prepared diligently for our presentation. It seems like it all paid off!

Our Team!
Our team digging the mini swale at a residential property in D.C.

Don’t let good opportunities slip away

The story of how I became involved with this competition is a funny one. It was a month and a half into my second semester of university. Due to the heavy workload from my new clubs, I was coming home around 9:00-10:00 pm four times a week. My priorities were in a jumble, and my mind was constantly swimming with items on my to-do list. Then, I realized that I was soaring on Cloud 9 in the first semester. Despite my struggles, I was proud of my mental fortitude, and trivial complications were not going to sway me.

Unfortunately, this confidence would generally slip away before bedtime. As I lay awake in bed staring at the blank ceiling, my stress went through the roof as I mentally prepared for the next day of challenges, meetings, and obstacles. One day, my phone buzzed in my pocket as I was doing work in my room. I opened the notification from my club slack, I read a recruiting message from Sophie, a person on my team I had never met before. It was something along the lines of:

  • I’m participating in the NG Environmental Sustainability Challenge
  • I have an idea and a contact, and it’s promising
  • I need 3-4 teammates willing to work with me and put in the effort

I was aware of the competition but had no intentions of participating. But, one sentence stood out to me: I have an idea and a contact. Those aren’t words you generally hear before a competition has even started. Since I was already drowning in my own workload and was not even acquainted with the message poster, I ignored it. But those words echoed around my head for a week. She already had an idea for an innovation-based competition? I would think. Could I just let an opportunity this juicy slip through my fingers?

I consulted my friends about it. All of them told me that it was a stupid idea. They were probably right, too, as I was still stumbling through my other work. One night, I expressed my interest to my roommate right before bed. He advised me not to do it. I agreed with his assessment. But before I went to sleep, I messaged Sophie: “I’m interested in helping you out. Let me know when we can meet.” I put my phone down for the night, and the rest is history1.


  • Made a stormwater management system that prevents residential properties from flooding
  • Won first place

  1. I learned how to adapt and handle my workload. Somehow. ↩︎