Five student entries were selected as winners of Rensselaer's Change the World Challenge idea competition for the Fall 2007 semester. Created in 2005 by alumnus Sean O’Sullivan ’85, the competition is intended to support entrepreneurship education and inspire ideas to improve the human condition by providing a $1,000 cash award for innovations that will make the world a better place.
Each semester, students – as individuals or in teams – select a topic from a list of challenges to use science and/or engineering to improve human life, and offer an innovative and sustainable solution to that challenge. Examples of winning submissions include improving firefighter and farmer safety, organic insulation, addressing clean water, health, and housing issues in developing nations. Submissions are judged on both novelty and feasibility, and up to 10 entries each semester can be selected to receive an award.
The winning ideas from the Fall 2007 competition are:
- Sunsac solar water purification. Students looked specifically at the problem of contaminated water in developing countries, the effects of which have recently been estimated to be as much as 14,000 deaths a day related to water-borne illnesses. They designed an extremely affordable and practical product that uses solar water purification to pasteurize enough water for a family of six. Team members: Alicia Lin, Christina Gambino, Tiffany Hu, Nicholas Kirsch.
- The Smart Badge wearable technology. The Smart Badge student solution incorporates existing technology packaged into a state of the art “wearable network,” such as facial recognition technologies coupled with an interface to readily scan driver licenses so officers can easily identify persons of interest. The design integrates hardware components with law enforcement databases so information can be relayed back to an officer far quicker than the current protocol. The badge consists of a number of features including a camera, a barcode scanner, a GPS chip and the officer's radio. Other significant applications for a similar badge could include uses for fireman and Emergency Medical Technicians, among others). Team members: Sarah DiNovo, Louis Martinelli.
- Guardian Wear jacket. To combat a broad range of personal crimes and assaults on individuals -- from women, children, and the elderly to government officials, athletes, celebrities and others -- Guardian Wear offers a cleverly designed state-of-the-art jacket. The student design incorporates numerous effective levels of defense against life threatening dangers including an automated 911 distress call device easily activated and integrated with a GPS system; a ten-second delay shut-off embedded to prevent false alarms; a proprietary Panic Alert-System consisting of a discreetly designed and hidden light weight 90 decibel audio alarm; and a smart locking zipper to prevent unwanted removal, among other things. Student designer: Sarah DiNovo.
- Self–sustaining Bioluminescent Organism. Currently there are 1.6 billion people in the world without access to electricity, mostly in the developing nations. When available, the price of electricity is usually significantly higher a far higher percentage of their disposable income. In addition, the environmental impact of energy production is considerable as many of the power plants are powered by coal or oil, the dirtiest means of non-renewable energy production. The solution recommended by this student team is a self-sustaining bioluminescent organism that is capable of producing light and is encased in an environment in perfect harmony that balances the reproduction and death rate of the organism (three different strains of algae) so the light output is kept at a constant rate. Team members: Sara DiNovo, Aaron Henshaw, Paul Hurlock Dick, Cristhian Kim, Louis Martinelli, Carly Strife.
- The Improved Pot-in-Pot Cooler. More than 840 million people in the world are underfed. Food preservation in hot climates is one major problem and there is a vital need to inexpensively preserve the crops grown and to increase food safety. The pot-in-the-pot cooler already exists and is widely used in many developing nations. Through changes in engineering, the students sought to increase the thermal efficiency of the cooler applying concepts of thermal conduction and insulation to prolong the food storage period and their proposed design improvements also make the cooler far more user friendly. Team members: Alexander Morein, Garrett Scheffler, Jacquelyn Colarusso, Richard Willems.
Winners of the Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 competitions will be recognized during a special event at the end of the school year. Exceptional ideas also have the possibility of receiving additional financial support. That was the case last year when one of the winners, Greensulate, was selected as the “best of the best”. Since that time Greensulate (now renamed Ecovative Design LLC and a Rensselaer Incubator company) has gone on to win numerous awards at the national and international level, including first place at this year's inaugural Innovation Showcase (I-Show) competition November 9th in Seattle, Washington where they won $5000. The competition was sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in collaboration with the National Collegiate Inventor and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).They also finished as one of the top three companies out of 9 finalists chosen from over 180 entries that competed in the 2007 Oxford University 21st Century Challenge Competition on November 29th where they won the equivalent of approximately $20,000. Ecovative produces environmentally friendly organic insulation called Greensulate™ which is created from waste agricultural materials, water, and mushrooms. The patent-pending insulation could replace conventional foam insulations, which are expensive to produce and harmful to the environment.
“The Change the World Challenge competition requires students to identify a need – not a want – and come up with a viable solution that will have a significant positive impact on the lives of individuals or a community,” said Rob Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship at Rensselaer and chair of the competition. “I congratulate this group of winners for their innovative, exciting and inspiring ideas. They each truly have the potential to change the world.”
Sean O’Sullivan earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer and was a founder and the first president of MapInfo, a global software company headquartered at the Rensselaer Tech Park and recently acquired by the Pitney Bowes corporation. He has started a number of other companies and organizations, including JumpStart International, an engineering humanitarian organization headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.