Skip To Main Content
Dishes made from pasta.
Instead of using plastic dishes, restaurants can use pasta alternatives like PLASTA made in Invent for the Planet as a more environmentally friendly option. | Image: Courtesy of Tarek El Khayat

During the 2020 school year, over 26 universities from around the world joined Texas A&M University to compete in Invent for the Planet (IFTP). This 48-hour competition challenges students to solve the planet's most pressing issues.

Each university held the competition at their respective schools during the beginning rounds, where the top three teams would be recognized. However, the first-place winners were given the opportunity to perfect their business pitch and compete among each other to narrow down the top five teams. The final rounds consisted of the last five teams competing at Texas A&M.

In the final rounds, team PLASTA from the American University of Beirut worked on reducing the disposable plastic items in the fast-food industry. They focused on using pasta as an alternative to plastic dishes and utensils in restaurants. They were unable to continue working on their project due to severe lockdowns in March of 2020 due to COVID-19. The pandemic also contributed to IFTP being canceled in 2021.

A cup made from pasta.
Tarek El Khayat said Invent for the Planet is about applying the knowledge gained in engineering to new and unconventional things. Problems can be tackled from an engineering perspective to reach a solution. | Image: Courtesy of Tarek El Khayat

Among the team members, Tarek El Khayat, a master's student in civil engineering, reflected on the competition.

Q: What made you decide to compete in this competition?

A: The main motivation was that we would be working on resolving a major issue that could potentially make a positive impact.

Q: How have you integrated what you have learned in the classroom into your project?

A: We had to learn by trial and error how to make pasta dough from scratch, what is the optimum water-to-flour ratio (similar to water to cement ratio), the required temperature at which the pasta should dry without being brittle and the relative humidity needed as well. We used our knowledge in materials engineering to reach the required pasta properties.

Q: How did participating help you in your engineering career?

A: The participation in Invent for the Planet resulted in a lot of interest from my colleagues at work, and it certainly showed how a group of dedicated people can achieve innovative solutions. This experience allows you to apply the knowledge gained in engineering in new and unconventional ways. Problems can be tackled from an engineering perspective to reach a solution. It was very enjoyable and I would recommend anyone to participate if they can.

Find out more about Invent for the Planet!