Liana Kalushner

2009 Northeast District Student Merit Winner

When Liana Kalushner scrolled through possible professions before choosing a course of study, the recent University of the Arts graduate contemplated some obvious options before settling on the not-so-obvious.

“I considered graphic design, fashion design, interior design, event coordination and even hotel management,” Kalushner noted. “As soon as I heard about industrial design, I felt like it was a perfect match. It’s elusive, yet it affects us on a personal level in every aspect of daily life.”

Nothing is more personal than the bond between a mother and her child. Metaphorically, that relationship is often represented by the mother’s milk—a substance that has been found by some studies to contain more than 100 post-industrial chemicals.

“The topic of ‘peak oil’ as my senior thesis prompt threw my classmates and I for a loop,” she reported. “While researching petroleum and the countless derivative products, we became concerned with the link between petrochemicals and serious health problems.”

Kalushner continued, “Petrochemicals are all around us. We absorb, inhale and ingest them on a daily basis. When a woman is pregnant, she transfers the chemicals to her baby through the umbilical cord. Once the baby is born, they ingest their mother’s milk, which also transfers petrochemicals.”

Because a baby’s immune system is fragile and underdeveloped, this kind of exposure to petrochemicals has been linked to asthma, learning disabilities, immune disorders and cancers. “By FDA standards, breast milk would not be approved for sale,” Kalushner said.

Wanting to make breast milk safer, the winner of IDSA’s Northeast District Student Merit Award and her thesis partner, Tiana Galante, compiled a network of advisors that included engineers, chemists and a PhD professor at UCLA who was working with breast milk filtration. “Once we figured out that there was a way to filter petrochemicals out of breast milk, we started to design the appropriate applications for filtering,” she offered.

That design process ultimately yielded the Petrofree breast pump, a wearable breast pump with a built-in, removable milk storage chamber, and the Petrofree bottle filter, a solution that can be retrofitted to almost any existing pump.

Kalushner and Galanate are currently working to launch a company that could bring the Petrofree products to market and further develop a line of Petrofree products. As that process unfolds, the IDSA Student Merit winner is practicing her own brand of socially conscious problem solving—evidenced by the Kick It Can, a collaborative project generated after observing behavioral patterns in Philadelphia subways.

“Subways have a general reputation for being unsanitary,” Kalushner asserted. “These environments typically go unchanged because, outside of sanitation workers, most people are uncomfortable picking up someone else’s trash.”

Liana Kick It CanAfter she and her team noticed that subway users frequently were forced to entertain themselves, they developed the Kick It Can as an interactive solution that would alleviate some of the fears associated with trash clean up while offering bored subway users a productive way to spend their time.

“My overall aspiration has always been to create something that really serves a purpose, helps or just changes the way people think of engaging with something,” Kalushner said.

Liana Kalushner is currently consulting for charity events in the eastern Pennsylvania including YMCA of Philadelphia and vicinity and Design Philadelphia.. She can be reached at