Six UF student teams shared their plans to make the world sustainable at UF’s One World conference Friday.

UF’s Challenge 2050 held its second annual conference to address the fact that the world’s population is projected to exceed 9.6 billion by 2050. Students, called the Solution Six, presented their plans in the University Auditorium to combat possible effects of overpopulation such as lack of food, climate change and the need to grow better crops.

The six teams spoke about education reform, reversing global warming and humanitarian work. About 300 people attended the event, with students coming and going throughout the day.

Presenters were chosen out of about 70 students who submitted videos explaining their ideas. Each of the finalists received $500 to continue work on their projects, which included business models and research to make the world more sustainable.

A panel of six judges chose the most innovative idea to receive $1,500, said Anthony Andenoro, the director of Challenge 2050.

Avalon Hoek Spaans, a UF environmental science junior, and Audrey Batzer, a 20-year-old UF environmental science sophomore, won the contest with their presentation on combating climate change. 

The two pitched their company, Ferns for Feed, which would promote the growth of azolla, a fern that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than other plants. They want to use the plant as fertilizer, feed and to reverse global warming.  

The two students talked about natural solutions to pollution, rather than technological advances.

“Why have we forgotten about nature when talking about these problems?” Batzer said.

Hoek Spaans said they will use the prize money to continue research and patent their company, which is still in the planning stages. She said they struggled with pitching that the company could work in the business world.

“We don’t really have a background in business,” the 20-year-old said.

Andenoro said students who weren’t selected to speak could still participate in the conference. Before the student speeches began, organizations from UF, the Gainesville community and the nation had booths educating students about sustainability and how they can help.

“I think a lot of students want to be involved,” he said. “But they don’t know how to be involved or what to do.”

Marissa Cassaway, a UF neuroscience freshman, said she attended the conference to watch her friend, Hoek Spaans, speak.

“I started tearing up,” the 19-year-old said. “I’m just so proud of her.”

She said it was inspiring to learn about other UF students’ ideas.

“It’s really interesting to see where one thought can go and how impactful it can be,” Cassaway said. “After this, I definitely want to get involved.” 

Contact Katelyn Newberg at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @k_newberg.

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