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Bureau of Reclamation Selects Winners of Prize Competition Seeking Methods to Quantify Drift Invertebrates in River and Estuary Systems

Five submittals were selected to have merit and will be explored further by Reclamation and its partners

Media Contact: Peter Soeth, 303-445-3615,

For Release: July 15, 2016

WASHINGTON – Quantifying the vital food supply for threatened and endangered fish has been complicated for scientists. But that may be changing. Through a Bureau of Reclamation prize competition, five ideas were selected that have merit and may lead to breakthroughs quantifying the drift invertebrates in river and estuary systems.

"Drift invertebrates are insects that drift through rivers and estuaries and are the basic building blocks in a river ecosystem," Commissioner Estevan López said. "Knowing and understanding how these food sources are impacted by habitat changes will help biologists in the recovery and management of threatened and endangered fish species."

The two top-ranked solutions were submitted by Edem Tsikata, Ph.D. Tsikata has a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University and is currently working as a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. His top ranked solution proposed using commercially available digital holographic imaging equipment with modifications that would enable successful identification and quantification of invertebrates in rivers and estuary environments. This was the only submission meeting all the solution technical requirements stated in the prize competition. A team of federal researchers are now considering approaches to further develop, scale-up and test this concept.

Tsikata's second place solution proposed using high resolution sonar. Although not readily apparent that this solution could meet all the stated technical requirements, it demonstrated sufficient merit for Reclamation to further explore how it can make this concept work. He will receive $17,500 for submitting the two ideas. The ideas will be further explored and tested by Reclamation and other federal government entities.

Other solutions identified to have sufficient merit to be awarded prizes include:

  • Matt Vaillancourt submitted a design for an examination chamber where water could be collected and processed with the capability to electronically identify and quantify the various drift invertebrates in the water. A $5,000 prize has been awarded to secure a license that will allow the federal government to further develop, test and use this concept. Vaillancourt has a degree in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic State University with an emphasis in mechatronics and is now working on projects that integrate complimentary technologies such as microcomputers, motion control, and 3D modeling.
  • Ted Ground submitted a design for a continuous sampling device that uses air bubbles to lift and concentrate invertebrates at the water surface where imaging and cataloging could occur with an array of cameras. Mr. Ground has also received a $5,000 prize to secure a license that will allow the federal government to further develop, test and use this concept. Ground has a Master of Science degree in Aquatic Biology from Texas State University and is currently an independent technical consultant working on a wide variety of aquaculture, water quality and natural resources related projects.
  • Michael May, Ph.D., proposed using an array of lensless cameras to search a volume of water backlit by a commercial flat-panel display. Lensless camera technology is low cost and has an infinite depth of focus. The federal government also secured a license to further develop, test and use this concept by awarding May a $2,500 prize. May earned his Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins University and is currently the president of the technology and strategy consulting firm Dana Point Analytics.

The prize competition requested concept papers for new and improved methods and the theory behind the methods proposed. A total of 24 solutions were submitted for evaluation. A panel of federal fish biologists, ecologists and scientists from Reclamation and other collaborating agency experts evaluated the proposed solutions.

Reclamation collaborated with other agencies that have considerable interest in quantifying drift invertebrates including the NOAA-National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To learn more about this and other prize competitions by the Reclamation, please visit

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier in the United States, and the nation's second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.