This is part of a sponsored content series as part of my role as the exclusive 2014 Collegiate Inventors Competition Ambassador.
This morning’s Collegiate Inventors Competition Expo brought together 14 teams from colleges and universities around the country to share their inventions with the public before undergoing a round of judging to determine a winner to be announced this afternoon. While the undergraduate and graduate student team inventions ranged from medical devices to kill bacteria that cause infection, new ways to diagnose diseases or deliver treatment, and inventions that aim to improve on existing products such as batteries or plastics, one common theme I noticed when talking to students was the way necessity sparked invention.
A Way for Visually Impaired Individuals to See Pictures
Katherine Cagen’s experience having a visually impaired roommate at Harvard led her to think about ways technology can give people with visual impairments the graphic equivalent of braille. While braille is a way for the blind to read text, they don’t have a way to visualize images to help them access information on screens. Individuals with sight don’t think about how much we rely on screens on our computer, televisions, and even ATMs and microwaves to provide information. The lack of access to visual information can be a barrier to visually impaired students graduating from college. Katherine said that fewer than 12% of visually impaired students graduate from college.
Presented with a problem and wanting to find a way to help students like her roommate, Katherine investigated the use of ferrofluid, a product that uses a magnetic field to congregate. Using this idea, she developed Ferrotouch, a display that incorporates iron-filled-fluid to form bubbles and create magnet-controlled pixels under a thin sheet of elastic.
Ferrotouch allows visually impaired individuals to run their fingers over the elastic to feel the bumps that form an image by simply turning on the magnet. The fluid would form a diagram, one pixel at a time.
Such technology could be used to display a PowerPoint slide for a visually impaired individual in a college classroom so they could access the same information as their seeing classmates. Katherine’s invention was developed with a slim budget of $500 but her ingenuity has made her an undergraduate finalist for the Collegiate Inventors Competition.
Solving Global Health Issues with a Music Box-like Crank Device
On a table on the other side of the room was an object that looked like a child’s music box. The box featured a crank and drum like a music box but instead of a plastic lid encasing the object, a strip of paper less than 2” wide feeds through the box when the crank is turned.
George Korir, a graduate finalist from Stanford University, explained how this simple, low-cost paper punch card and hand crank technology has the potential to rapidly diagnose neonatal sepsis and impact global health to make an incredible difference. Neonatal sepsis is a bacterial infection in the blood that can appear within 24 hours of birth but often occurs in infants younger than 90 days old. When diagnosed and treated with antibiotics quickly, babies with neonatal sepsis and other bacterial infections can completely recover but a big barrier is access to proper tools to diagnose diseases.
Punch Card Programmable Microfluidics may have an intimidating name but it’s not complicated when listening to George explain how the music-box crank pushes fluids as it turns. The fluid chip plugs into the tape and provides a way for fluids to be pushed digitally by reading the holes in the tape to diagnose neonatal sepsis.
Combining experience and knowledge from growing up in Kenya with current experiences as a graduate student at Stanford Medicine, George developed a highly portable device that can be used by local community health care workers so families in African countries don’t have to travel to seek medical care or treatment thanks to his Punch Card Programmable Microfluidics invention.
While the initial goal can be used to help reduce child mortality (also a United Nations Millennium Development Goal for 2015), George’s invention can be expanded for non-communicable diseases such as high cholesterol and will ultimately be used to help individuals make smart lifestyle choices. Punch Card Programmable Microfluidics is already being used in pilot health programs in Laos and Kenya.
Plastic Bags Made from Orange Peels
Have you ever really thought about what you put in your trash and thought about what to do with it beyond recycling? Keith Hearon, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student did when a friend made a comment about how much Styrofoam was being wasted when Chick-Fil-A customers threw away their cups. Since lemonade is a popular item, the citrus peels that were also being thrown away at when Chick-Fil-A got him thinking about how he could incorporate citrus peels.
Keith’s idea, Citrene, is part of his Sustainable Nanocomposite Performance Plastics. In short, this is a family of plastics made from naturally occurring citrus rind extract that is biodegradable and flexible. Citrene has the potential to be used in medical devices, protective coatings, and grocery bags and could positively impact a $80 billion dollar per year industry by creating a line of plastics that incorporates sustainable and renewable resources.
Attend the Collegiate Inventors Competition TODAY!
This afternoon Keith, Katherine, and George or any of the other 11 teams I met could be named the winner of the Collegiate Inventors Competition and awarded $15,000.
Those in the Washington, D.C. area are invited to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office’s Madison Building from 3:30-5 pm for a first-hand look at the innovations that could change the world and to meet these inspiring inventors from around the country. Admission is free and on-street parking ($3.50 for 2 hours) adjacent to the building makes attending easy. Plus there are goodies at each table as you walk around and meet the Collegiate Inventors Competition finalists who are a pleasure to talk to!
If you can’t join, please follow along via social media!
- Facebook: Collegiate Inventors Competition
- Twitter: #CICExpo, @CollegeInvent, and @InventorsHOF
- Instagram: Collegiate Inventors
- LinkedIn: Collegiate Inventors Competition