2021 Collegiate Inventors Competition Finalists Show Future of American Innovation

NORTH CANTON, Ohio — Sept. 13, 2021 — The Collegiate Inventors Competition®, an annual competition that has rewarded innovations, discoveries and research by college and university students and their faculty advisers for more than 30 years, announced today its 2021 finalists.

This year’s finalists and their inventions provide a glimpse into the future of American innovation and emerging technological trends — from evaluating damage to utility poles to a rapid at-home test for COVID-19. Through their research, these students have harnessed their “inner inventor” to make working prototypes that can positively change our world.

Each year, individuals representing a broad cross-section of technological fields serve as first-round judges, evaluating entries based on originality of the idea, process, level of student initiative, and potential value and usefulness to society. The finalists will present their inventions Oct. 13 in a “virtual” format to a panel of final-round judges composed of the most influential inventors and invention experts in the nation — National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officials. Winning teams will be announced on Oct. 14.

“Year after year, the Collegiate Inventors Competition celebrates truly talented innovators through the spirt of competition, and the finalists here today represent some of the best examples of hard work, dedication, and outside the box creativity,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “Through innovation, these young people will not only play a role in helping to change the future for the better, they are also creating for themselves a pathway to the opportunity and prosperity that is one of the hallmarks of the American Dream.”

“Innovation continues to change the way we all live our lives,” added Drew Hirshfeld, Commissioner for Patents, Performing the Functions and Duties of the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. “The USPTO is honored to recognize the 2021 finalists of the Collegiate Inventors Competition ¬— a program where our nation’s brightest college minds present meaningful solutions to real-world challenges.”

Established in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition is a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the USPTO and Arrow Electronics (Arrow Electronics People’s Choice Award). Follow the National Inventors Hall of Fame on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and additional information.




Air-Coupled Ultrasonic Transduction Inspection System (ACUTIS), Florida Atlantic University Team Member: Matthew Maggio; Advisers: Regina Thompson, Hari Kalva

Maintaining service and safety: Wooden utility poles are subject to rot, holes, cracks and other defects, both above and below ground, increasing the risk of power outages and making poles unsafe for utility workers. In contrast to standard inspection methods, which are inefficient and can introduce new injuries to the wood, the Air-Coupled Ultrasonic Transduction Inspection System (ACUTIS) provides an efficient, noninvasive and nondestructive way to identify unserviceable poles. ACUTIS uses ultrasonic waves to penetrate the wood’s interior and detect defects without changing the integrity of the structure, allowing energy providers to reliably maintain service and ensure safety.


Augment Health Bladder Management System, Georgia Institute of Technology

Team Members: Stephen Kalinsky, Jared Meyers; Adviser: Martin Jacobson

Smart monitoring that can empower millions: Over 6.5 million people in the United States alone have limited bladder sensation. They cannot feel when their bladder is full and often suffer incontinence. Many use incontinence products or a catheter and collection bag. Often, these solutions lead to urinary tract infections and are costly, difficult and embarrassing to manage. The Augment Health Bladder Management System is a noninvasive connection between a catheter and catheter valve that monitors the bladder and tells the user when it is full via their smart device, eliminating the need for obtrusive incontinence products. This invention has the potential to reduce costs and infections, restore dignity and offer better quality of care.


EarFlow, Harvard University

Team Member: Eva Cai; Advisers: Samir Mitragotri, Aaron Remenschneider

An easier treatment for healthier ears: Otitis media, or middle ear infection, is a painful condition triggering excess fluid production in the middle ear, affecting the eardrum by altering its vibration and hearing levels. It is especially common in young children. EarFlow is a drug delivery device that is placed on a patient’s eardrum to deliver dexamethasone, a steroid, and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic, to the middle ear to treat otitis media. Placing the device takes less than five minutes in a doctor’s office and does not require general anesthesia. With low cytotoxicity and low risk of hearing damage, EarFlow offers a vast improvement from standard treatments for recurrent infections.


Firebot, University of Texas at Austin

Team Member: Siddharth Thakur; Adviser: Roland Fields

Navigating safer search and rescue operations in fire situations: Firefighters face life-threatening situations while searching for human life in structural fires, leading to 33 fatalities in the past decade and 10,575 injuries in 2019 alone. Firebot, a thermally insulated, wirelessly controlled, obstacle-climbing robot, locates victims without requiring firefighters to enter burning buildings. Firefighters can deploy Firebot near an entrance and remotely steer it using a joystick and laptop displaying live video, thermal imagery and sensor data, which warns of potentially hazardous situations. Firefighters can use a two-way speaker to lead conscious victims out, or a siren and GPS map to allow them to quickly find and rescue unconscious victims, helping to mitigate risks and save lives.


Innerva Conduit, Johns Hopkins University

Team Members: Juan Diego Carrizo, Bruce Enzmann, Michael Lan, Anson Zhou; Adviser: Hai-Quan

Mao Preventing chronic pain: Of the nearly 2 million adult amputees nationwide, up to 80% have severe, intractable neuroma pain. A preferred treatment is targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR), suturing the injured nerve stump to a freshly cut motor nerve. However, roughly 30% of TMR patients still suffer from chronic pain due to an inherent neuroma-prone size mismatch. The Innerva Conduit can be implanted during TMR as a bridge between nerves. This flexible, cone-shaped device is made from a polymer nanofiber that prevents axons from escaping and forming neuromas. Filled with a composite gel that serves as a medium to support regeneration while controlling nerve growth biochemically, the conduit is both biocompatible and biodegradable.


MAQR Bracelets, University of Minnesota Duluth

Team Member: Katelyn France; Adviser: Cynthia Welsh

Accessible, lifesaving technology: Many people with chronic diseases, allergies and disabilities wear emergency medical bracelets. However, these bracelets are typically limited to just four lines of text. Medical Assistance via Quick Response (MAQR) bracelets use a quick response code, or QR code, so that in an emergency, anyone can use a smartphone with QR code scanning capabilities to reach either a static text page or an updatable webpage providing necessary medical information and emergency measures. MAQR Bracelets can hold a nearly infinite amount of information and can be made available in different styles, all at an affordable price.




ArchGuard, Duke University

Team Members: Len Assakul, Pratik Doshi, Anish Nigade, Kelly Yang; Adviser: Eric Richardson

A safer TAVR experience: Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) is a medical procedure to replace a diseased aortic valve that fails to open properly. While TAVR has many advantages, risk of stroke is a major complication, leading to devastating short- and long-term health outcomes. ArchGuard is a cerebral protection device and first of its kind offering alignment flexibility and complete protection to all major blood vessels to the brain during TAVR. The team expects the device to significantly reduce the chance of a stroke thanks to its unique design that deflects debris away from the brain.


Aura, Purdue University/Stanford University

Team Members: Joshua Barnett (Stanford), Mahdi Al-Husseini (Purdue); Advisers: Matthew Hull, Hayden McLeod

A smart flight training solution: Training pilots is an intensive process that ensures plane and helicopter operation is safe. However, pilots in most aircraft, especially noncommercial, nonpassenger aircraft, lack real-time access to meaningfully processed flight data. Aura is the first tool to allow pilots to track maneuver data dynamically in-flight. It does so by analyzing instrument displays using a pipeline of computer vision and machine learning techniques. Aura identifies the maneuver being performed and creates performance reports accordingly for in-flight and post-flight review. The Aura team estimates that its system can lead to a 10% reduction in training time for U.S. Army helicopter pilots — potentially saving the Army $106 million a year.


Living Functional Materials, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Team Member: Tzu-Chieh (Zijay) Tang; Advisers: Timothy K. Lu, Neri Oxman

Sustainable solutions for responsive materials: Living materials refer to materials hosting living organisms that sense their surroundings and change properties accordingly. To transition living materials from laboratory into real-world conditions, Tzu-Chieh (Zijay) Tang invented a Deployable Physical Containment Strategy (DEPCOS) and Synthetic Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (Syn-SCOBY). The former is a hydrogel shell that can house and contain billions of live microorganisms, and the latter is a platform that supports the symbiotic growth of engineered yeast and bacteria. DEPCOS has the potential to drastically reduce the cost of water-quality monitoring biosensors, and Syn-SCOBY can enable a one-pot production of functional cellulose filters without costly procedures.


SolarClear, Stony Brook University

Team Member: Shrish Patel; Adviser: Alexander Orlov

A better solar panel cleaning solution: Dust storms, especially in the Western United States, Middle East and North Africa, are a significant problem for large-scale solar power plants. While solutions exist to clean them off, they are impractical and expensive. Cleaning a typical utility-scale solar installation requires a staggering 600,000 to 1 million gallons of potable water. SolarClear addresses this problem by using autonomous waterless cleaning technology that is both significantly more effective and efficient compared to existing technologies. Additionally, the unique design of the electrodes that are used in the system makes SolarClear economically viable for utility-scale installation in the desert.


Sunthetics, New York University 

Team Member: Daniela Blanco; Adviser: Kurt Becker

Clean and sustainable chemical manufacturing: Chemical manufacturing is responsible for nearly 30% of the global energy demand and represents a significant producer of carbon dioxide emissions. However, developing more efficient and sustainable processes can be too expensive or not achievable within industrial timelines. By leveraging chemical engineering and small data, Sunthetics offers AI-optimized chemical reactions for the production of sustainable chemicals.


VirSENSE, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Team Member: Maha Alafeef; Adviser: Dipanjan Pan

An accessible COVID-19 testing solution: To manage and ultimately control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, rapid, inexpensive and easily deployable testing is crucial. It’s for this reason that Maha Alafeef created VirSENSE, a rapid test for COVID-19 that users can administer entirely at home. Using an electrochemical biosensor paired with an electrical reader, the test screens for active cases and is over 98% accurate. Thanks to the technology that VirSENSE is using, individuals are able to determine in real time if they are COVID-19 positive, even before their bodies develop a detectable antibody response.


About the Collegiate Inventors Competition

The Collegiate Inventors Competition encourages and drives innovation and entrepreneurship at the collegiate level. A program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, this competition recognizes and rewards the research, innovations and discoveries by college students and their advisers for projects leading to inventions that have the potential of receiving patent protection. Introduced in 1990, the competition has awarded more than $1 million to students for their innovative work and scientific achievement through the help of its sponsors. For more information, visit invent.org/events/cic-event.

Media Contact:
Ken Torisky
National Inventors Hall of Fame
[email protected]