Curtis Chong Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Identification of the Antifungal Drug Itraconazole as an Antiangiogenic Agent Useful for Treating Cancer and Diabetic Retinopathy
Advisor: Jun Liu
In the summer of 2001, Curtis Chong was in the midst of a CDC internship at a hospital in Mozambique. The sole person in charge of admitting people to the emergency room one morning, Chong found himself faced with hundreds of people, all in need of attention. He found it an overwhelming experience and wondered what he could do as a medical researcher to help patients in the developing world.
An interest of Chong’s previously involved screening existing drugs and testing their efficacy in treating diseases and symptoms other than for which they had been intended. The idea came to him as an undergraduate sophomore after browsing the Merck Index and discovering how many drugs there were. Upon his return from Mozambique, he found funding to establish the Johns Hopkins Clinical Compound Screening Initiative to screen a wide array of drugs on different disease models.
In his screening, Chong discovered that itraconazole, normally used for treating fungal infections, inhibited the reproduction of cells that form blood vessels and are important in tumor growth and diabetic retinopathy. Chong is clearly excited at the prospect of being able to treat cancer and common issues associated with diabetes with a drug already in clinical use.
Chong is also excited that itraconazole will be entering phase II clinical trials for the treatment of lung cancer at Hopkins this fall. In a positive step for Chong, he has received a $1.5 million grant to set up a research lab in Singapore and run trials in developing countries.
Chong, 32, grew up in Honololu where he picked up his interest in science in part from his father, an engineer, and his mother, a nurse. After graduating from Kalani High School in 1994, Chong traveled to Harvard where he received his undergraduate degree in biochemical sciences in 1998. At Harvard, Chong remembers professors who allowed the students to conduct their own experiments in the lab. He says, “The freedom to do whatever we wanted was very inspiring.” Chong received his master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Cambridge in 2000, and completed the M.D./Ph.D. program at JHU earlier this year.
Currently, Chong is a resident in internal medicine at The Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, traveling to Singapore on his breaks to monitor his work there. Chong hopes to have a faculty appointment at a teaching hospital in the U.S. and also spend time in Singapore, continuing his drug discovery research. He notes, “I like the idea of trying to use science to improve humanity.” In addition, when thinking about the field of medicine, he says, “What I enjoy is that every day you meet new people, and there is always something more you can do.” Chong is engaged to nursing student Amber Ramage and looks forward to getting married next year.
Watch Curtis Chong at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Nathan Clack and Khalid Salaita
University of California at Berkeley Electrostatic Readout of Microarrays
Advisor: Jay Groves
In 2006, Khalid Salaita had just joined Jay Groves’ lab at Berkeley, and Nathan Clack had just finished a research project and was looking for another. Groves encouraged them to work together and to think about how they could develop diagnostics that would be able to help the most number of patients in underprivileged, remote, and resource-poor areas. This started the pair on developing a method for electrostatic detection of DNA, using common and accessible materials.
A DNA microarray involves printing a large number of DNA sequences on a flat chip. Traditionally, to perform a DNA test with microarrays, costly fluorescent markers, along with a high intensity light source are used for identification. Clack and Salaita’s work makes it possible to detect specific DNA sequences using a rapid test that could easily be used in the field and does away with the need for fluorescence labeling. The two scientists spread silica microspheres that are negatively charged over a microarray. On the surface areas where negatively-charged double stranded DNA is present, the microspheres are repelled in a manner that can be easily visualized by measuring their motion or how they “stick” to the surface. In such a way, disease and pathogens could be easily identified, even in places without high tech resources and with limited infrastructure. In fact, results of the detection process could be captured by a camera cell phone and sent to a central location for pathogen identification.
Clack and Salaita are enthusiastic about their electrostatic technique because of its potential to be used in portable hand-held devices in third world clinics or in emergency rooms, when timeliness is important. While the technique will likely not replace existing methods, it can supplement them and make identification of disease easier in remote locations.
Clack, 30, has wanted to be a scientist for as long as he can remember. Fascinated by chemistry in high school, later in his studies he learned how it could be used to address biological issues. Clack also remembers, “Inventors and scientists were my heroes, people like Einstein, Tesla, and Edison. I really wanted to have an impact on a lot of people, like them.” He graduated from Kempner High School in the Houston area in 1997, and received his bachelor’s in biochemistry and math from the University of Texas in 2001. In 2007, he received his Ph.D. from Berkeley and is currently doing postdoctoral research at Janelia Farm Research Campus. He is married to Michele, an administrative assistant in the IT industry.
Salaita, 29, grew up in Amman, Jordan where his family still lives. Growing up, he recalls the chemistry experiments he used to undertake at home, including trying to make sodium from molten table salt in a Turkish coffee pot. His parents emphasized education and had him and his two brothers reviewing multiplication tables on the drive to the beach or working on algebra puzzles at home together. It was his father’s dream to send Salaita to the U.S. for his education, and he received his B.S. in chemistry from Old Dominion University in 2000. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Northwestern in 2006 and currently is at Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow. Salaita says, “I’m currently applying for academic positions. I’d like to start Fall of 2009. To be an academic researcher with my own lab—that is my absolute dream.” This past summer he married Meisa, whom he met while they were both pursuing their Ph.D.’s in chemistry.
Watch Nathan Clack and Khalid Salaita at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Heejin Lee Massachusetts Institute of Technology Drug Delivery Device for Bladder Disorders
Advisor: Michael Cima
As a young boy in Seoul, South Korea, Heejin Lee was fascinated by machines, and he was always building and taking objects apart. It’s no surprise, then, that he pursued a mechanical engineering degree from Seoul National University (SNU). After receiving his undergraduate degree at SNU and completing military service in South Korea, he continued his education in graduate school at MIT.
After Lee completed his master’s degree, his advisor suggested investigating a more efficient drug delivery system for urological problems, which was a new and challenging topic for him. Currently, those with bladder disorders can take oral medication, but only limited amounts of the drug reach the targeted area. Or, the medication can be put directly into the bladder, allowing for a stronger dose, but such a method is only effective until the patient needs to empty the bladder.
Lee put his mechanical engineering skills to work and fashioned a device with a semipermeable membrane which can be filled with the drug of choice. The device can then be inserted nonsurgically into the bladder via the urethra, where the device releases the drug into the bladder by osmosis. In order to keep the device, basically a thin tube, from being evacuated from the bladder, Lee also uses a shape memory alloy wire to create a pretzel shape. The device can be straightened when it is inserted into (and retrieved from) the bladder, but returns to its original shape once released. In addition, the amount of medication contained in the device can be adjusted, allowing flexibility in how long it needs to stay within the bladder and dispense medication.
To educate himself, Lee studied urological journals to learn the terminology of the problem. He was gratified to realize at a recent medical meeting that he, the mechanical engineer, was as familiar with the terminology as many others. Lee is also pleased about the potential impact of his device. In today’s society, it is often socially unacceptable to speak about bladder problems, and as a result, individuals with overactive bladders or other issues often avoid public places or socializing. Lee hopes to give this group of people back a level of freedom.
After graduating from SNU in 2002, Lee went to MIT where he earned his M.S. in mechanical engineering in 2004. Currently, he is working on his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at MIT, expecting to receive his degree in February 2009 and plans to continue work as a R&D scientist after graduation. Lee grew up with an inquisitive mind and remembers, “I always was fascinated by movement in not just machines, but in real life subjects such as insects.” He particularly remembers when he and his brother caught about one hundred dragonflies and released them in the living room of their home, much to the shock and chagrin of his mother. His greatest regret was having to work to catch all the dragonflies not once, but twice.
University of Texas at Dallas Smart Textiles for the Preservation of Tissues and Organs
Advisor: Kenneth J. Balkus, Jr.
Although Harvey Liu was born and raised in Austin, Texas, as the child of Taiwanese parents he didn’t feel completely comfortable speaking English when he was young. As a result, he found himself automatically drawn towards math and science because as he says, “Science and math didn’t really need translation.” He became involved with science fairs and math clubs and discovered how much he enjoyed competing in these areas. Today, he is nearing completion of his Ph.D. in chemistry, and his research along the way has resulted in an innovative bandage that has the potential for several different medical applications.
Liu and his advisor first thought of the novel bandage while discussing organ transplants and the difficulties faced in the process. When Liu realized that his previous work with a self-healing smart film could be relevant, he conducted additional experiments until he created a bandage that would release nitric oxide in a controlled manner as the bandage degrades. Nitric oxide is a gas known to promote vasodilation in blood vessels and keep them relaxed and flexible. Among the uses of this smart bandage, Liu envisions wrapping organs taken from donors for use in organ transplants. During the transport process, the bandage would release nitric oxide and would assist in preserving the organ until it reached its destination and intended recipient.
Likewise, Liu can see the bandage being used in applications to stimulate hair growth through its ability to encourage blood flow. He is currently examining the possibilities of turning the bandage into a sock that could be used to increase circulation in diabetic patients. Liu hopes to one day have the bandage in FDA trials.
As an undergraduate at Southwestern University, Liu, 26, studied premed. However, he found himself fascinated by chemistry and experienced an epiphany of sorts when he realized that what he was learning was applicable to real life. So upon his graduation in 2004, he decided to pursue his strong interest in chemistry and began grad school at the University of Texas at Dallas. He received his M.S. in 2006, and expects to receive his Ph.D. in December 2008.
Liu is a graduate of McNeil High School in Austin where his parents still live. His wide-ranging interests can be seen in his future plans. He would like to attend law school and study intellectual property law, eventually becoming partner in a law firm. He is always eager to learn about new topics, and as he says, “I like new projects. To help start something and watch it develop is interesting for me.”
Watch Harvey Liu at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and Bacterial Biofilms with Engineered Bacteriophage and Synthetic Gene Sensors
Advisor: J.J. Collins
While performing his clinical rotations at a large hospital, Timothy Lu, a Harvard Medical School and MIT student, was bothered by the infectious outbreaks he witnessed in many patients. The unexpected infections would cause lengthened hospital stays, additional treatment, or both, resulting in increased healthcare dollars being spent. Lu remembers, “That experience drove me to look for a solution to this problem.”
Lu knew that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are usually treated with stronger and stronger antibiotics, leading to subsequent decreases in the antibiotics available for the treatment of future infections as resistance continues to evolve. He also knew that very few new classes of antibiotics have been developed within the past few decades, partly due to the large cost associated with modern drug discovery. Working in the new field of synthetic biology, Lu created engineered bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria—which work in conjunction with existing antibiotics to make them much more effective against bacteria.
In addition, Lu realized that bacterial biofilms are capable of causing long-term infections, not just in hospitals but also in food-processing and industrial settings. Biofilms are bacterial communities that live on surfaces and produce protective coatings to make themselves highly resistant to antimicrobial treatment. Common tactics to deal with biofilms involve physically removing and replacing infected items or using harsh chemical treatments. Instead, Lu engineered bacteriophage to produce enzymes that break down the protective coating surrounding biofilms, enabling deep penetration into biofilms and increased killing of bacterial cells.
Captivated by research, Lu is hopeful that his inventions will have a positive impact on society and health. In addition to finding success with his work, he also enjoys collaborating with others to improving patient care.
Born in Stanford, California, Lu, 27, spent his early years growing up in New York and then moved to Taiwan, where he graduated from high school. His parents continue to live in Taiwan, where his father founded and runs, along with his mother, Etron Technology, an integrated circuit design and production company. Lu recalls that when he was young, his father was involved with advancing state-of-the-art technology in the semiconductor industry as an engineer at IBM. Lu likens the emerging field of synthetic biology to the early and revolutionary days of the semiconductor industry and is inspired by the parallels he sees between the two fields.
A 2003 graduate of MIT with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, Lu is a student in the M.D./Ph.D. program at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He received his Ph.D. in February 2008 and expects to receive his M.D. in 2010. As for his plans upon graduation, he says, “My heart really is in research. I’m not sure if it will be academia or industry, but I want to stay involved in research and make an impact on the world.”
Watch Timothy Lu at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Virginia Commonwealth University Hemostatic Mineral Bandage
Advisor: Gary Bowlin
Parth Madurantakam is following in good footsteps. Back in 1995, Madurantakam’s current advisor at VCU, Gary Bowlin, won the Collegiate Inventors Competition for introducing a technique for electrostatic endothelial cell seeding. Today, Madurantakam is a finalist in the Competition for developing an ultra light bandage that may have the potential to save lives by stopping high-pressure bleeding.
Born in India, Madurantakam was a practicing dentist and orthodontist for a couple of years before he embarked on a journey to the U.S. to pursue research. He was pleased when he found a place in Gary Bowlin’s lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he began expanding on the research Bowlin and colleagues had conducted on hemostatic agents.
Madurantakam knew that existing hemostatic agents could be applied with effectiveness to lethal hemorrhagic wounds, and he also knew that existing products had limitations. Madurantakam sought to create a bandage that would embody the best of existing products with the flexibility to address various wound geometries.
Mandurantakam says that his dental education has provided him with an ideal foundation for research. In fact, Madurantakam strongly believes that his experience in dental school has prepared him better for a career in biomedical research than his original goal of medical school.
Madurantakam looks forward to his bandage being marketed. “The potential is endless,” he notes, “because this bandage is effective and requires no specialized training to use.” He also says that the invention is significant because at least half the combat deaths in Iraq are due to uncontrolled bleeding and so are preventable. He foresees use of the bandage by a wide range of people including combat soldiers, emergency responders, surgeons and even at-home consumers.
Currently a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, Madurantakam, 32, hopes to receive his degree in 2009. He completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Tamilnadu Government Dental College and Hospital in Chennai, India. Madurantakam quit his orthodontic practice to pursue research because he believed that he could positively impact a larger group of people as a scientist compared to just a handful as an orthodontist. He is married to Lathika Mohanraj, who is currently working on her Ph.D. in molecular biology at VCU.
Watch Parthasarathy Madurantakam at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Brandon McNaughton and Paivo Kinnunen
University of Michigan Rapid Detection and Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing of Bacteria
Advisor: Raoul Kopelman
When hospital patients develop an infection, it usually takes two days before test results indicate the type of infection and the appropriate antibiotic to administer. As a result, improper antibiotic use is widespread, contributing to the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance. Brandon McNaughton and Paivo Kinnunen have addressed this issue with their research at the University of Michigan.
McNaughton and Kinnunen take tiny magnetic spheres, 10 to 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, and use them in conjunction with a test sample. They rotate the spheres which are capable of attaching to different bacteria. If bacteria are present, they bind to the sphere, causing an increase in drag in the rotation. Even a single bacterium can cause a change in speed which can be easily measured. The team shines a laser on the rotating spheres to monitor the speed of rotation. They then look for any changes in the rotational speed to indicate the presence of bacteria and to measure their subsequent growth. Depending on the bacteria found and their growth response to antibiotics the appropriate antibiotic and dosage can then be administered.
A main advantage of the technique is that it has been designed to have a test turnaround time in an eight-hour time span, or within a hospital worker’s shift. Another benefit is that because of the cost and size, testing could be conducted in remote or poverty-stricken locations. The device employing their technique would be an inexpensive and small tabletop unit that would use very little power, easily supported by a generator or solar cells. Currently, the pair is seeking patent protection, and they hope to then pursue the path of getting their technique on the market.
McNaughton, 28, graduated from Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, California in 1998 where his parents currently reside. He says, “I was really not interested in many of the subjects in high school, but, instead, very focused on topics of my own choosing. I was always trying to invent things, even from a young age.” He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from California State University Bakersfield. Looking for an outstanding school in applied physics, he found himself at the University of Michigan where he received his Ph.D. in 2007. Presently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan, McNaughton continues to experiment at the University, as well as work on inventions in his garage at home. He is married to Hannah, who is currently majoring in physics and plans to attend medical school, and they have two sons, three-year old Jacob and two-year old Logan.
Kinnunen, 25, was born and raised in northern Finland at the edge of the Arctic Circle. He graduated from Rovaniemen Ammattilukio High School in 2002, and soon after he settled in Turku to study physics at the University of Turku. During his senior year, he participated in an exchange program with the University of Michigan. Kinnunen says, “Before, I had mostly studied theory. But I began doing research and lab work, and I enjoyed seeing how things worked rather than just making calculations about them.” After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2007 from the University of Turku, he entered the Ph.D. program in applied physics at the University of Michigan, hoping to graduate in 2011. Ultimately, Kinnunen would like to start a company devoted to his research.
Watch Brandon McNaughton and Paivo Kinnunen at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
University of Michigan Ultra-strong and Stiff, Optically Transparent Plastic Nanocomposites
Advisor: Nicholas Kotov
When Paul Podsiadlo looks at natural materials such as seashells, bones, or teeth, he sees amazing structures. He notes how these seemingly simple yet microscopically quite complex structures have evolved over millions of years into some of the toughest composites, and as he looks at them, he tries to understand their structure and how they function with the hope of mimicking their properties for the development of the next generation of advanced materials. It is this same thoughtful approach to all problems in his research that encourages Podsiadlo and that makes his research exciting for him.
For his University of Michigan research, Podsiadlo knew he wanted to create high performance materials by using nanotechnology as his tool. His innovation is “plastic steel,” a transparent plastic sheet that is ultra strong, with remarkable properties approaching the values of steel and its alloys. To create his composite plastic, Podsiadlo begins with nanoscale materials, actually clay nanotubes that individually are extremely strong. One of his challenges was determining how to transfer the nanoscale mechanical properties to a macroscale end product. Podsiadlo uses a layer-by-layer assembly technique to alternately deposit nanometer-thin layers of clay nanosheets and polymer, ending up with a product comprised of hundreds of layers. The structure of the final product resembles that found in the seashell: the nacre.
Podsiadlo looks forward to the broad impact his innovation could have, especially in the military, aviation, medical, and energy sectors. He envisions his structure being used for anything from body armor to biomedical coatings. In fact, research for the project was initially funded by the U.S. Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health.
Podsiadlo, 30, was born in a small village in Poland where he always enjoyed the sciences and math in school, often helping his teacher grade math exams. At 17, he came to the United States and graduated from Bridgman High School in Bridgman, Michigan in 1997. As he studied at a local community college, he found that his most interesting classes were in chemistry. In fact, he remembers an experience in the lab making a sample of common acetylsalicylic acid, also known as aspirin, as a particularly positive moment that piqued his interest in the topic. Unsure whether his English skills would allow him to succeed at a school such as the University of Michigan, Podsiadlo took a chance and applied and was thrilled when he was accepted.
In 2002, Podsiadlo received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering, in 2006, he received his master’s, and in 2008, he received his Ph.D. During his doctoral research in 2006, Podsiadlo was granted a five-year fellowship from the Hertz Foundation, supporting his research at Michigan. Now a U.S. citizen, Podsiadlo lives in the Chicago area with his wife Aneta, who is expecting their first child in December. Currently he is a Frank Willard Libby Postdoctoral Fellow at the Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials where he continues his research in nanotechnology. Podsiadlo admits, “I really enjoy research, every aspect of it. I can’t just go home and switch off. My wife probably knows more about carbon nanotubes and clay nanosheets than she wishes she did.”
Watch Paul Podsiadlo at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Patrick Delaney, Matthew Beckler, and Caleb Braff University of Minnesota Solar-LED Lighting Innovation
Advisor: Paul Imbertson
When Patrick Delaney went to Nicaragua in 2004, he quickly discovered that although the Central American country is relatively close to the United States, the people there suffered from a great lack of electricity. Kerosene and gas are mainly used for lighting after dark in rural areas, but they are expensive. Without access to light, rural villagers are unable to use after dark hours for education or any kind of economic improvement.
Delaney was immediately taken with the idea and resolved to tackle it. As he worked his way through various ideas involving LEDs and solar panels, he realized he lacked expertise in microcontrollers. With his advisor’s assistance, he discovered Matt Beckler and the pair began working to implement a novel lighting idea. Often, Delaney and Beckler would meet in the student IEEE Room on campus, and Caleb Braff overheard the discussions about LEDs. Knowledgeable about LEDs, Braff spontaneously began joining the conversations, and the team was complete.
The group knows that many others have come up with the idea of using LEDs and solar panels, but they have taken an innovative approach in trying to find a solution that could be easily replicable and therefore impact as many people as possible. One tactic they have taken is to use materials that can be locally sourced in Nicaragua, keeping the price low and more affordable for rural villagers. In addition, although their device is low-powered, it can still generate light for many hours.
Delaney, 25, grew up in Afton, Minnesota, attending the Hill-Murray School in nearby Maplewood. He received his B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in May 2008 and is currently searching for employment in LED research or technical sales. Delaney’s fluency in Spanish helped form his decision to travel to Nicaragua. He first realized the power of light when he worked with a family there to hook up a solar power panel. He says, “It was at night, and hundreds of people came to see it. That was a big wake up call.”
Growing up in Eau Clare, Wisconsin, Beckler, 23, attended Eau Clare Memorial High School. Interested in computer programming when he was young, he was also pressed by the question of what actually made the computer itself work. He received his undergraduate degree in computer engineering in May 2008, and he is currently continuing his education as a doctoral electrical and computer engineering student at Carnegie Mellon. Referencing this project, he notes, “The best part is the real world engineering experience.” He also says, “When I’m doing something for fun, the number of epiphanies I get is proportional to how fun the project is.”
Braff, 23, grew up just outside of Grand Rapids, Minnesota where he was homeschooled. An avid amateur radio operator since a young teen, he stays active in the local radio club. Braff remembers when his father was a computer programmer at Minnesota Power how he would bring home decommissioned equipment to take apart. He recalls, “I enjoyed getting my hands into something and ripping it apart to find out how it worked.” He is currently working on his B.S. in electrical engineering, with an expected graduation date of Fall 2009.
Watch Patrick Delaney, Matthew Beckler, and Caleb Braff at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Joshua Lerman, Hanlin Wan, and Swarnali Sengupta Johns Hopkins University ICU Mover Aid
Advisor: Dale Needham
Faced with a challenge from a JHU physician, JHU undergraduates Josh Lerman, Hanlin Wan, and Swarnali Sengupta worked together to create an early ambulation system for intensive care patients. As the students learned, patients in the ICU often suffer from muscle degeneration and bed sores during their stay. Also, it’s theorized that getting patients up and moving will speed the recovery process.
The problem they faced was that in normal ICU circumstances, the patient is usually connected to a cardiac monitor, a ventilation system, an oxygen tank, as well as an IV. This requires four staff to walk with them. The team created the ICU Mover, a device that integrates the needed ICU life support systems and combines them with a walker and wheelchair. Patients can walk an ICU hallway with the aid of just two staff people, and a seat is in place behind the patient in case of a sudden medical need. Because ICU hallways are traditionally narrow, the team also accommodated for that.
The team made three prototypes, with the final version in stainless steel. The ICU Mover can be easily disinfected. The current seat can be removed and washed, but the ultimate goal is to create a disposable cover to protect the seat during ambulation sessions. The team also worked on the project in conjunction with classmates Jinjie Chen, Jeremy Elser, Erica Jantho, Derrick Kuan, and Ravy Vajravelu.
Serving as team leader, Lerman, 22, graduated from JHU in May 2008 with his degree in biomedical engineering and applied mathematics. Growing up in Delray Beach, Florida, his parents encouraged his interest in science. He says, “I always liked taking things apart and trying to put them back together. Sometimes I couldn’t put them back together.” A graduate of Atlantic Community High School, Lerman became fascinated with biomedical engineering as a JHU freshman. He has just begun a Ph.D. program at the University of California - San Diego, expected to graduate in about five years. In the future, he says, “I might try my luck at entrepreneurship.”
Hanlin Wan, 19, was born in China, has lived in England, and eventually moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area. He graduated from Valley Forge High School and headed to JHU, originally to study premed. But, after working at a hospital after his graduation, Wan realized he was more interested in research. As he says, “I like discovering new things and figuring out how they work.” Interested in science from the time he was young, Wan plans to attend graduate school and then work as a researcher, hopefully in the medical imaging field.
When Swarnali Sengupta, 19, was growing up, she was constantly given math problems by her parents, both college math professors. Although she wasn’t happy about it at the time, she’s now glad for her experiences. She also remembers being able to spend time in the labs of her parents’ colleagues. “My dad would drop me off, and I would spend hours working in the lab doing research. In 6th grade, everyone was working on projects at home, and I was using instruments in expensive labs.” A graduate of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Sengupta intends to enter an M.D./Ph.D. program after her graduation. Her dream is to work with her uncle, who hopes to buy a hospital in India, as a research cardiologist.
Watch Joshua Lerman, Hanlin Wan, and Swarnali Sengupta at the
2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Joshua Liu, Gayathree Murugappan, Kevin Yeh, and Vicki Zhou
Johns Hopkins University SurgyPack – A Novel Means for Bowel Packing
Advisor: Robert Allen
The practice traditionally used to keep intestines away from an abdominal surgical site, known as “bowel packing,” is severely outdated in its use of cotton pads and towels to restrain the organs. Josh Liu, Gayathree Murugappan, Kevin Yeh and Vicki Zhou were faced with this problem as presented by a surgeon in one of their classes. They learned that there were several issues to face. As surgeons are operating, they often must stop to reposition or replace cotton towels because they are inefficient at retaining the bowels for extended time periods. In addition, the cotton tends to dry out during the procedure, becoming rough and leaving behind fibers that cause harmful adhesions which lead to major post-op complications. Finally, there is always the slight risk of unintentionally leaving the cotton packs in the cavity.
The team’s goal was to eliminate these risks, and the result was SurgyPack, a one-piece device made of inert silicone that is both flexible and tear resistant. During surgery, the device can be inserted by the surgeon with one hand to push and keep the bowels away from the surgery site and held in place by just one additional retractor blade until its removal at the end of surgery.
The team enjoyed working with each other, taking advantage of their diverse talents and strengths. Along with students Mike Bisogno, Anshuman Gupta, Barbara Ha, Brian Liu, Sameer Manek and Helen Schwerdt, who also worked on the project, they will file for full patent protection and move forward with either licensing the device or forming a corporation.
Liu, 22, has always been curious about the way things work. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, he spent his free time teaching himself to write computer programs and disassembling things around the house. He says, “One of the ways I learned best was by exploring and thinking things through.” Liu graduated from Naperville Central High School and received his biomedical engineering degree in May from Johns Hopkins (JHU). He currently works for Epic, a healthcare software company.
Murugappan, 21, grew up in Troy, Michigan and attended Cranbrook High School. A biomedical engineering senior, she says, “I’ve wanted to go to medical school ever since I was little. This path exposes me to a different but good way to get there.” After Murugappan attends medical school, she ultimately hopes to be on a medical school faculty for a good balance of clinical practice and research.
Yeh, 22, took programming classes at Oregon State while he attended Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, Oregon. Regarding his choice of JHU, he says, “I had heard the biomedical engineering department was very project-focused and that they provided the students a lot of support.” After he graduates with his biomedical engineering degree, he plans to attend grad school and then work for a biomedical engineering or electrical engineering company.
From Las Vegas, Zhou, 21, was encouraged by her parents in math and science. She graduated from E.W. Clark High School, a magnet school for those subjects. As a biomedical engineering and applied math major, she says, “I don’t want to just learn new knowledge, I want to learn what I can do with it.” After her graduation, she hopes to explore working for a medical device company or in the world of finance, another interest of hers.
Watch Joshua Liu, Gayathree Murugappan, Kevin Yeh, and Vicki Zhou at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Spherical Vehicle with Flywheel Momentum Storage for High Torque Capabilities
Advisor: Alexander Slocum
As a senior thesis project at MIT, Schroll explored a fascination he has had for some time with spherical vehicles. After a broad investigation into prior research on the subject, he found that previous design concepts have significant limits in their ability to overcome obstacles or inclines, and decided he would try to address these limitations. Through months of brainstorming, he conceived of a novel solution that uses gyroscopes to store and dispense angular momentum to aid in climbing hills, obstacles, and stairs.
Schroll came up with the idea partly by playing with a toy gyroscope. “I saw how gyroscopes can behave in ways that seem to defy gravity as a result of the principle of gyroscopic precession. I applied this principle to a spherical robot to allow it to also appear to defy gravity,” he said.
Schroll believes that a spherical vehicle has many advantages over an ordinary ground vehicle because of its round shape. It cannot be turned upside down since every orientation is right side up, and it has no exposed points of weakness. All components are protected inside a spherical shell that could be armored and possibly sealed to give it amphibious abilities. Despite these advantages, limits in the performance of previous designs have prevented spherical vehicles from being useful for most applications, but Schroll hopes this invention will change that. He imagines his spherical robot having many potential uses including surveillance, reconnaissance, and disaster zone assessment especially in situations where conditions on the ground may not yet be safe for people. He envisions being able to air drop a fleet of sphere robots into a location and have them work together yet autonomously to gather information. He says his robot would also be appropriate for planetary exploration, as well as search and rescue since its ability to climb stairs would allow access to urban environments. Schroll says that the internal flywheel mechanism could also be useful in applications such as active stability and safety in off-road vehicles.
Presently a graduate student at Colorado State University, Schroll is furthering his research on his spherical robot and the gyroscope mechanism inside. Now 22, Schroll grew up in Chatham, New Jersey, and graduated in 2004 from Chatham High School. His family currently resides in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Schroll graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in May of 2008, and he expects to graduate with his master’s in Mechanical Engineering from CSU in 2010. Schroll plans to obtain a Ph.D., and hopes to continue doing advanced research in either an academic or industrial environment. Ultimately, however, he would like to work as an independent inventor and start his own think-tank company. As he says, “I have a running list of inventions-to-be,” and he looks forward to having the opportunity to pursue them.
Watch Greg Schroll at the 2008 Collegiate Inventors Competition
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