Student Projects Benefit Humanity

Recipients of first IEEE Presidents’ Change the World Competition announced

7 December 2009

If they apply their engineering and leadership skills, university students are not too young to make a difference in the world. And they got to show what they are capable of in this year’s first IEEE Presidents’ Change the World Competition, part of IEEE’s 125th anniversary celebrations.

Students around the world were challenged to develop “unique solutions to real-world problems using engineering, science, computing, and leadership skills to benefit their community and/or humanity as a whole.” More than 200 from all 10 IEEE regions submitted proposals, and the top three teams were honored on 25 June at the IEEE Honors Ceremony in Los Angeles.

“This contest not only successfully engaged students worldwide but also helped stimulate their inherent passion for helping mankind and making a real difference,” IEEE President John Vig says.

The IEEE Student Humanitarian Supreme Prize went to Stanford students Drew Hall and Richard Gaster for their NanoLab, a handheld diagnostic device that tests for proteins in blood, saliva, urine, and other body fluids associated with disease. The IEEE graduate student members received the first-place prize of US $10 000.

About the size of a small book, the NanoLab consists of two circuit boards, magnetic sensors, an electromagnet, and a well to hold the fluid being tested. A droplet is placed in the well, and the device uses magnetic sensors to read the biological data labeled with magnetic nanotags, which takes about 15 minutes. Different-colored lights signify the level of target proteins and identify the disease.

“The NanoLab is designed to be used in rural areas or developing countries, where access to medical facilities and technicians is limited,” Hall says. “Because it is portable, inexpensive, and exceptionally easy to operate, it can be used just about anywhere without skilled technicians or expensive laboratory equipment.”

“The NanoLab has the potential to broadly impact society, from life-saving clinical diagnostics in developing countries to fast, over-the-counter tests to detect HIV,” Gaster says.

The two students got the idea while working in a research lab at Stanford. “We’re always bouncing ideas off each other about new, cool applications for existing technologies,” Hall says. “However, being Ph.D. students, we don’t have a lot of free time to further explore those thoughts. The competition gave us a good excuse to follow through on one of them.”

The students are pursuing several avenues to commercialize their invention, including founding a start-up and licensing the technology.

And they plan to continue developing technologies to benefit humanity. “It’s a rewarding feeling to use our engineering skills to help people,” Hall says. “We know there is still much more that we—and others—can do,” Gaster adds.

Second place went to a team of 19 students from the IEEE student branch at the B.V. Bhoomaraddi College of Engineering and Technology, in Hubli, India. They won the $5000 IEEE Distinguished Student Humanitarian Prize for their project, Electronic Aids for Physically/Mentally Handicapped Children.

The students worked with the Ushas Center for Exceptional Children, in Hubli, to develop and test video games, electronic toys, and other electronic aids designed to stimulate children with mental and physical challenges, and encourage them to do exercises that can help with their disability. The devices guide youngsters through workouts to move their muscles and limbs, improve hand-eye coordination, respond to stimuli, and more.

The IEEE Exceptional Student Humanitarian Prize of $2500 went to a team of five from Rowan University, in Glassboro, N.J., for their Human-Powered Grain Crusher.

The students built a bicycle-powered quern. The crusher is for farmers in rural areas, where converting grain to flour is often difficult because there’s no electricity.

IEEE Student Member Kevin McGarvey, the team’s leader, traveled to Sengappadai, India, with Associate Professor Beena Sukumaran to research the needs of the villagers there, and they worked with the Dahn Foundation, of Mesa, Ariz., which partners with individuals and companies to develop innovative projects to help the poor.

Several prizes were awarded for other projects, including ones that involve robots in agriculture, electricity distribution in rural communities, and electronic health-care record systems. Each team received $1000.

In an online vote, IEEE members decided that the People’s Choice Prize should go to Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan for his Information System on Human and Health Services database. The project, which earned the IEEE member $500, is an online data bank that collects information on the population of disabled people in Tamil Nadu, India. The data can be analyzed to provide better health-care services for the disabled.

If you’re a student and want to develop your own invention to benefit humanity, registration for the 2010 IEEE Presidents’ Change the World competition is now open. The deadline for submitting your entry is 31 January 2010.

For more information about the winners and the competition, as well as a registration form, visit the IEEE 125th Anniversary Web site.



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