NASA Tournament Lab


ARSX2021 - Harvest for a Healthier Future

Ready to be an agent for change? ARSX2021 is the first step to developing healthy harvests. You can win $100,000 to test out your idea.

This challenge is closed

3 x $100K

This challenge is closed

Final Event and Winners Announcement


This challenge is open to ARS personnel only.  Team leads/captains must be scientists or post-doctoral researchers.

You must register with your email. External collaborators are permitted only on ARS-led teams. Please see the Guidelines for more details.


The theme for ARSX2021 is Harvest for a Healthier Future.  We are looking for transformative ideas that will help achieve a resilient and healthy food system - one that provides affordable access to safe and nutritious foods while being environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.  In particular, we are interested in ideas that will result in an ultimate reduction of greenhouse gases arising from agricultural activities.  This two-phase challenge will award up to three teams submitting the most compelling proposals $100,000 each to demonstrate proof of concept for their ideas.  If you’ve had a bold and/or unconventional idea in this area in the back of your mind, now is the time to act!  

As in ARSX2020, the teams submitting the 10 most compelling ideas will be selected as Phase 1 winners (finalists).  These teams will have several weeks to participate in an innovation forum, refine their ideas, and build out their pitches.  At the end of Phase 2, all teams will present their pitches to a panel of judges and an audience of their peers and colleagues.  The judges will award $100,000 each to the top three teams.

In addition to the three $100,000 prizes, this challenge offers participants a chance to build new relationships across disciplines and geographies, and Phase 1 winners will have access to both group and individual pitch coaching.


This challenge is open to ARS personnel only.  Team leads/captains must be scientists or post-doctoral researchers.

You must register with your email. External collaborators are permitted only on ARS-led teams. Please see the Rules section below.


About Harvest for a Healthier Future:

Malnutrition and nutrition insecurity once related solely to hunger and diseases such as wasting.  Today these terms increasingly refer to over-nutrition and chronic disease due to the lack of healthy, nutrient-dense diets. Agriculture is critical to the optimal health of the American people because it produces the ingredients that provide the basis of a healthy diet. 

However, America’s food suppliers face several enormous challenges: they must be economically profitable and support rural communities.  They must also adapt and respond to demographic and environmental pressures, while still providing affordable access to healthy and nutritious food choices.  A burgeoning world population, advancing climate change, shrinking arable land, restricted water sources, food safety issues, and immense food waste all impact our decisions about what, where, and how to produce nutritious foods.  Successfully meeting these challenges is critical to our future health and the planet’s future health.  It calls for a transformational approach to achieve a resilient and healthy food system while promoting affordable access to safe and nutritious foods that are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.  


The Root of the Matter: Reducing Greenhouse Gases from Agricultural Landscapes 

Farms of all sizes contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) through the use of fertilizers and irrigation, different farm and soil management practices, and manure management.  But farming also has the potential to mitigate climate change impacts since certain farming practices can capture and hold carbon instead of releasing it as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.   Reducing transport needed in food systems is another way to dramatically lessen environmental life-cycle costs.  Agricultural production methods, such as controlled environment systems near urban areas or the development of high-yielding, flavorful crops adapted to small farms, can promote access by dense urban populations to healthy nutritious foods while simultaneously providing a smaller carbon footprint.  Things like plant, animal, and food wastes all generate tremendous amounts of methane, and these are also areas for potential emissions reductions.  Improving feed digestibility and mitigating runoff from farmlands are opportunities for reducing nitrogen contributions to environmental imbalances. New, creative approaches are needed to measure, monitor, store and reduce greenhouse gases in agricultural landscapes, both above- and below-ground.

Be part of ARSX2021 - Harvest for a Healthier Future and submit your ideas.  Participation in ARSX2021 is open to all ARS personnel, but team leads/captains must be ARS scientists or postdoctoral researchers.  We’re always interested in creative and impactful ideas that are rooted in science, but this challenge seeks to encourage bold, aspirational, and high-risk ideas.  Think of this as an opportunity to test out your idea - it might be the start of something great, or it might fail smart and fast.  Either way, ARSX offers a new path for uncommon scientists and their uncommon ideas.  If you can draw a line from your idea to how it will ultimately impact greenhouse gases associated with agricultural activities, then this challenge is for you!  (Hint, we believe this challenge is for all of you and can engage all the national program areas of ARS.)  Whether you have an idea for a more digestible animal feed, for energy-efficient urban gardens, for new crops that require less fertilizer, or even a technology that increases nutritional content through improved post-harvest processing, we want to hear about it.


How did ARSX2020 winners benefit from the process?

The three winners of ARSX2020 had very different approaches for keeping disruptive agricultural pests and pathogens at bay, but they all appreciated an opportunity to get their ideas - ones that might only be tangentially related to their regular research projects - out in the open.  ARSX2020 provided participants with a chance to connect and talk about their ideas with other ARS scientists across diverse geographies and disciplines.  These winners recognize that ARSX is just a stepping stone to ultimate success and have experienced the satisfaction of building teams that are united in their desire to tackle important problems with unconventional approaches.

For example, ARSX2020 Visionaries Robert Shatters, W. Rodney Cooper, and Michelle Heck used their winnings to support automation and greenhouse and laboratory evaluations of their Plant-Host Activated-Cell Transplantation (PHACT) technology at four different USDA sites.  They appreciated how the ARSX process promoted team building across multiple disciplines and helped develop a sense of camaraderie among the team members.  The team attributes part of their success in applying for and winning a $15 million NIFA SCRI ECDRE grant to the strong team building that occurred during the process of participating in ARSX2020.

ARSX2020 Visionary Vincent Ricigliano also appreciated being able to connect with other ARS researchers that had diverse expertise.  As a result of his ARSX2020 award, he was nominated to receive a young investigator’s award and was invited to submit a proposal for a grant based on his idea for feed-based therapeutics.

If you are selected as one of the 10 finalists, you will be invited to participate in the ARSX2021 Innovation Forum.  This will be your opportunity to refine and strengthen your idea by getting input from relevant subject matter experts, by possibly building out your team to address gaps, and by receiving both individual and group pitch coaching.  At the end of the Innovation Forum and training period, you will pitch your idea to a panel of judges and an audience of your peers and colleagues.  The judges will select up to three winners, and each winner or winning team will receive $100,000 to demonstrate proof of concept for their ideas.  Depending on the outcomes from initial work on winning ideas, there is the possibility for some of them to become funded research projects.

The goal of ARSX is to encourage ideas and collaborations that are outside the box and possibly quite early stage, so your ideas will be evaluated primarily based on their potential impact and overall novelty.  Secondary criteria include feasibility and collaboration.  See the Judging Criteria section for more details.



Up to 10 Phase 1 winners will be eligible to participate in an innovation forum to refine their original ideas, build out their teams, and receive pitch coaching.  This is a unique opportunity to interact with colleagues from other parts of the organization, to get visibility within ARS, and to develop some new skills.

Up to 3 Phase 2 winners will each receive up to $100,000 to support proof of concept work on winning ideas.

Additionally, all participants will benefit from the ARSX experience.  Submitting your idea to ARSX2021 will afford you the following:

  • Opportunity to get your idea reviewed by experts outside of ARS (external evaluation panelists include experts, entrepreneurs, and innovators with perspectives that are outside of agriculture)
  • Visibility both within and outside of ARS
  • Additional funding opportunities from the Innovation Fund Panel that are only open to ARSX2021 participants



Challenge launch: May 4, 2021

Phase 1 submissions due: June 29, 2021

Phase 1 winners announced: July 20, 2021

Phase 2 innovation forum and training: August 3, 2021

Phase 2 live pitches and winner announcement event: August 31st, 2021


Judging Criteria

Section DescriptionOverall Weight
Potential ImpactThe potential impact of the proposed idea to ultimately reduce greenhouse gases through the creation of a resilient, sustainable, and healthy food system that provides affordable access to safe and nutritious foods.40
NoveltyThe proposed idea creatively addresses the problem and is substantially different from other currently used approaches.40

The proposed idea is:

  • Technically feasible, supported by scientific rationale or existing data,
  • Practical, and could eventually be widely adopted
  • Well-considered, with key risks identified and possible mitigation strategies identified
CollaborationThe proposal is supported with appropriate technical expertise in different areas and drawn from more than one research group.10


Submission Form

You must complete your submission using the online form. Character limits include spaces. Only ARS employees with a email domain will be able to register for the challenge and submit an application.

  1. Team Details: For each team member please provide the following:
    1. Name
    2. Email address
    3. ARS research unit or external affiliation
    4. ARS area
    5. Area of expertise being contributed to the proposal
      *Please note who is the team leader.
  2. ARS Eligibility:  Participation in ARSX2021 is open to all ARS personnel, but team leads/captains must be ARS scientists or postdoctoral researchers.  Please confirm that the team leader is either an ARS scientist or post-doctoral researchers. (Y/N)
  3. External Collaborators: If any team member is a collaborator external to ARS, please check this box.
  4. Overview: Please provide an overview of your proposed approach: (2000 characters max)
    1. What is your idea and why will it work?
    2. How is it relevant to the ARSX2021 focus area of “Reducing Greenhouse Gases from Agricultural Landscapes”?
    3. What inspired this idea?
  5. Potential Impact: Please discuss the potential impact of your proposed approach. (6000 characters max)
  6. Novelty: How is your proposed approach different from other existing solutions?  How does it demonstrate creativity or novelty?  Does the proposed approach use a novel technology, an existing technology in a novel way, or something else? (3000 characters max)
  7. Feasibility: Please discuss the feasibility of your idea: (6000 characters max)
    1. What is the supporting evidence or scientific rationale for it?
    2. What will you need to do in order to achieve proof of concept?
    3. What are the three key milestones you will need to achieve in the next year?
    4. What do you estimate is the Application Readiness Level (ARL)? Why do you believe this?
    5. If successful, what might be potential barriers to its widespread adoption?  How could they be addressed?
  8. Collaboration: Please discuss the areas of expertise and contributions that each team member brings to your proposed approach.  If your team wins, how do you anticipate each team member’s role evolving as you move into design and implementation activities? (3000 characters max)
  9. Supplemental Information: You can upload up to three separate PDF files. Please limit these attachments to no more than 2 pages each. These supporting documents can be used to substantiate claims made in your essay questions addressing the Technical Submission Criteria (POTENTIAL IMPACT, NOVELTY, and FEASIBILITY). If you choose to include supporting documents, you must reference them somewhere within this submission form.


Participation Eligibility:

The challenge is open to all ARS personnel, but team leaders/captains must be ARS scientists or postdoctoral researchers.  External collaborators are permitted on teams led by an eligible ARS team captain. External collaborators may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see:

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English. 

No specific qualifications or expertise in the fields of agriculture, nutrition, or climate change is required. Prize organizers encourage individuals and cross-disciplinary teams to compete and propose new solutions. 

Ownership of Intellectual Property: 

ARS will be responsible for filing patents and IP protection for innovations created by employees and affiliates of ARS. Non-ARS judges and participants will need to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) prior to accessing information submitted in an application. Participants can be assured that any IP, whether granted or contained within a provisional application, will be protected through the application and review process of the competition.

Applicant will retain all right, title and other ownership interests in Applicant Inventions and Applicant Copyrighted Works. Applicant will also retain all right, title and other ownership interests in Applicant’s submission and in all inventions, patents, patent applications, designs, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, software, source code, object code, processes, formulae, ideas, methods, know-how, techniques, devices, creative works, works of authorship, publications, and/or other intellectual property not included in the definition of Applicant Technology (“Intellectual Property”) developed by Applicant during the Challenge.  Your own employment agreement is still in effect.

Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the highest votes from the Judges.

Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.

Challenge Timeline

April 22, 2021, 9:53 a.m. PDT
Date Launched
May 4, 2021, 5:30 a.m. PDT
June 29, 2021, 5 p.m. PDT
Phase 1 Submissions Due
July 20, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT
Phase 1 Winners Announced
Aug. 3, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT
Phase 2 Innovation Forum and Training
Aug. 31, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT
Live Pitches and Winner Announcement Event
Aug. 31, 2021, 5 p.m. PDT
May 18, 2024, 12:20 a.m. PDT
You are here

Challenge Updates

Congratulations to Your ARSX 2021 Awardees!

Sept. 1, 2021, 11:30 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

Thank you to all finalists for your well-presented pitches at yesterday's pitch event. 

For those that couldn't tune in to yesterday's winner announcement, after a truly close deliberation session (so close that it was down to the wire), judges selected the following three teams to be awarded a $100,000 prize to further their research and development, in conjunction with the insights gleaned from this experience:

  1. Getting down to BiNIS by Bryan Emmett, Claire Philips, Ryan Hayes, Rod Venterea, and Florence Sessoms
  2. Harvesting Agriculture’s “Natural” Insect Farms by Alexandra Chaskopoulou, Lee Cohnstaedt, Kiki Zinoviadou, Annie Donoughue, Brenda Oppert, and Komala Arsi
  3. Enhancing Rainfall with Charged Water Droplets by Dan Martin, Arquimedes Ruiz-Columbie, Jonathan Jennings, Craig Funke, George Bomar, and Tony Vaz

Alongside these well-deserving winners were the other incredibly innovative and insightful teams that filled out all of the pitch sessions. One team in particular that stood out to our panel as worthy of an honorable mention is...

  1. Healthy Floral Microbes = Healthy Crops and Bees by Caitlin Rering, Natalia Peres, and Patricio Muñoz


Reminder to Register for Tomorrow's ARSX 2021 Winner Announcement Event!

Aug. 30, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

A reminder to join us for the final event and winner announcement for ARSX2021 on tomorrow, August 31st, from 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET. Click here to register for the event. 

The event is open to all ARS personnel and the public.

Attend the ARSX2021 Final Event and Winner Announcement - August 31st!

Aug. 26, 2021, 6 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

ARSX 2021 is nearly coming to a close! On August 31st, 2021, 10 finalist teams will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges in the hopes of being awarded one of three $100,000 prizes to further pursue their idea for a Harvest for a Healthier Future!

We invite you to join the final event and winners announcement on August 31st. During the event, attendees will get an opportunity to hear elevator pitches for each finalist’s idea, a keynote speech from the Director of Open Innovation Programs for the U.S. General Services Administration, Jarah Meador, and the announcement of winners for ARSX 2021. 

The event is open to all ARS personnel and the public. On August 31st, from 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM ET, join us, by registering for the event at the link here.


Finalists Announced in the ARSX2021 Challenge!

July 20, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT by Natalie York

We are proud to announce the ten finalist teams in the US Department of Agriculture’s ARSX2021 Challenge - Harvest for a Healthier Future.

ARSX2021 tasked scientists and researchers to propose high-risk, high-reward ideas that will help achieve a resilient and healthy food system  - one that provides affordable access to safe and nutritious foods while being environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.  

The ten finalist teams, in no particular order, are:

  • Enhancing Rainfall with Charged Water Droplets
  • Expanding GHG Measurements Anytime, Everywhere 
  • Phenotyping Cover Crops for Carbon Sequestration
  • Getting Down to BiNIS
  • Nematode Early Warning System for Crops
  • Improving Resilience & GHG Emissions through AI/ML
  • Degassing Landfills by Upcycling Vegetable Waste
  • Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer
  • Harvesting Agriculture’s “Natural” Insect Farms
  • Healthy Floral Microbes = Healthy Crops and Bees

The ten finalist teams will now have several weeks to participate in an innovation forum, refine their ideas, and build out their pitches.  On August 31st, 2021, all teams will present their pitches to a panel of judges and an audience of their peers and colleagues.  The day will culminate in a live, public virtual event where the judges will award $100,000 each to the top three teams.

8 Hours Remaining to Submit!

June 29, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT by Kyla Jeffrey

If you're still assembling your submission, you have exactly 8 hours left to complete it! The deadline is 5:00 pm Pacific Time TODAY.

Here's a Tip: HeroX recommends innovators plan to submit with at least a 3-hour window of time before the true deadline. Last-minute technical problems and unforeseen roadblocks have been the cause of many headaches. Don't let that be you!

Final Event and Winners Announcement