Sunburst Sensors Advances to Phase 3 of $2 Million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE


Missoula, Mont. (February 20, 2015) - Sunburst Sensors, LLC, a Missoula, Montana based company, has advanced to the third phase of the $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE, a global competition that challenges individuals and teams to build innovative pH sensor technology that will accurately measure and advance the understanding of ocean acidification. The 14 remaining teams are competing for two prize purses: the $1M accuracy purse, based on performance, and the $1M affordability purse based on cost and usability.

Earlier this month, teams submitted their sensor for a month-long performance test in a coastal environment at the Seattle Aquarium, where each device will make hourly measurements over the course of a 30-day period and have them compared to reference laboratory pH readings. Sunburst Sensors has entered two separate instruments in the competition both based on their existing product, the SAMI-pH. To compete for the affordability purse, Sunburst Sensors developed the iSAMI-pH, with the ‘i’ standing for ‘inexpensive.’

“Because the affordability purse does not require the same level of accuracy or measurements in deep water, we could greatly simplify our design using less expensive parts,” said James Beck, President of Sunburst Sensors. “It’s not pretty but it works well.”

The company has also entered the tSAMI-pH for the accuracy purse, which has a 3000 meter depth requirement. This sensor was designed for the next phase of the competition, which includes deep-sea trials in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii that will put devices through real-world depth and pressure scenarios, slated to take place in May 2015.

“Our standard instrument only goes to 600 meters so we developed a titanium housing to handle the depth requirement. Our hope is that we make it to the phase 4 deep-sea trails to see how this sensor performs,” said Beck.

To reach this point, Sunburst successfully put their sensors through a rigorous three-month test in controlled laboratory conditions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute this past fall.

This contest has spurred us to move faster on some development ideas that we have been pursuing. Its been a real motivator, said Beck. Even though this is an intense competition, there is a great deal of collegiality between the teams and a number of interesting approaches being tried. It has been a valuable experience for us and should ultimately help increase public awareness of problems caused by ocean acidification.

As we embark on Puget Sound, its exciting to see such a wide range of teams still in the hunt. From high school students and surfers to start-ups and established marine technology firms, they all still have a chance to win, said Paul Bunje, senior director of oceans at XPRIZE. Competing in an XPRIZE is a remarkably challenging endeavor. Just making it to the Coastal Trials demonstrates a tremendous achievement. And we are confident that some real breakthroughs exist, as well as a remarkable demonstration of technology for measuring ocean chemistry.

The Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE is a global competition that challenges teams of engineers, scientists and innovators from all over the world to create durable pH sensor technology that will affordably, accurately and efficiently measure ocean chemistry from its shallowest to its deepest depths.

Sunburst Sensors, LLC was formed in 1999 and is a world leader in the measurement of ocean pCO2 and pH. The company is owned by University of Montana Professor Michael DeGrandpre, who serves as Chief Technical Officer, and James Beck, who serves as CEO.