Water Toxicity Sensor Challenge


Award: $45,000

Active Solvers: 210

Deadline: 26 Jul 2021 23:59 EDT


This Challenge is requesting new design solutions for biologically based sensors for use in water systems that can detect the activation of one or more human toxicity pathways. Toxicity pathways are the perturbations to normal biological processes that occur due to exposure to a stressor, such as a chemical, that has the potential to lead to adverse health effects. Although the sensor might not identify a specific contaminant/toxin, it should be able to measure or quantitate the level of activation of one or more toxicity pathways when the sensor is exposed to water that contains relevant amounts of contaminants/toxins targeting the pathway(s). The solution should be less costly, more efficient, and more rapid than current methods for water toxicity analysis. This Theoretical Challenge is Stage 1; there is the potential for Stage 2, which would consist of a Challenge to produce a prototype.

This Theoretical Challenge requires only a written proposal.


In the interest of advancing technology that can be used to evaluate water quality, the Seeker is looking for a design of a sensor that can detect the presence of one or more contaminants in water by measuring their impact on one or more toxicity pathways. The sensor would avoid the need for performing multiple laboratory measurements for the detection of target compounds. The sensor should be able to quantify the degree of activation of the toxicity pathway. The sensor may be a new technology or an improvement to existing technology.

This Challenge consists of two stages:

  • Stage 1 is a Theoretical Challenge. Participants will be asked to submit an idea, along with detailed descriptions, specifications, supporting data or literature, and requirements necessary to bring the idea closer to becoming a product.
  • If Stage 1 produces winning concepts, Stage 2 is planned as a subsequent Reduction to Practice Challenge with a larger prize purse. Participants will be asked to present their technology and submit a working prototype that puts their idea into practice. More details will be provided after Stage 1.



If awarded, Winning Solvers must certify they do not have identical or essentially equivalent work currently funded by a United States Federal agency.

Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to participate. A Federal employee acting outside the scope of his or her employment should consult his or her ethics official before participating in the Challenge.

The potential award for this Challenge is $15,000 for a proposal that meets all requirements. The Seeker intends to award up to three prizes. Solvers are not required to give up any of their intellectual property (“IP”) rights to the Seeker to be eligible to receive an award.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (U.S. Eastern Time) on July 26, 2021.

Late submissions will not be considered.


  • The Seeker intends to select up to three finalists to receive awards of $15,000 each from a total award pool of $45,000. The Challenge award will be contingent upon results of critical analysis and evaluation by the Seeker. Meeting the Technical Requirements does not guarantee that the proposed solution will receive an award from the Seeker. Partial cash prizes of less than $15,000 may be considered for solutions that meet some, but not all, of the criteria. The Seeker can also allocate higher individual award amounts, as deemed appropriate.
  • Depending on the results of this Challenge and on the availability of funds, the Seeker may conduct a second phase Challenge (i.e., Stage 2), asking Solvers to submit prototypes for testing. This second phase, if it occurs, will be open but not restricted to the winners of this first phase of the Challenge.


After the Challenge submission deadline, submissions will be judged by a panel convened by the Seeker. The panel will recommend winning solutions to the Seeker, and the Seeker will make final selections. All persons or entities that submit a proposal will receive a high-level evaluation and be notified as to the status of their submission. Decisions by the Seeker cannot be contested.

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