Inside Rensselaer
Students Recognized for Innovative Ideas To “Change the World”
A portable device that pumps oxygenated blood to a patient’s brain during a medical emergency and a new method to wash clothes that dramatically reduces the need for water, electricity, and detergent are two of the eight winning ideas in Rensselaer’s fall 2008 Change the World Challenge contest.
Created to support entrepreneurship education and stimulate ideas to improve the human condition, the competition awards $1,000 cash prizes to innovative ideas and inventions with the potential to make the world a better place. Additionally, substantial financial support and patent application assistance is given to winning student proposals considered to be the “best of the best,” according to Rob Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship and chair of the competition.

“The ultimate goal of the competition is to encourage students to further develop, patent, and fully realize their winning ideas — to evolve their ideas into life-changing inventions and technologies,” says Chernow.

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 challenges include improving safety and security, and addressing health issues. Submissions are judged on both novelty and feasibility, and up to 10 entries each semester are selected to receive an award. 

Over 50 proposals, created by more than 175 students, were submitted to this semester’s contest. Twenty-three students are being recognized as winners of the competition, and will receive funding to pursue provisional patents in addition to the cash prize. The winning ideas are:
  • A new exhaust system that could greatly reduce the level of toxins released by lawn and farm equipment, which make up a surprisingly large percentage of overall hydrocarbon emissions.
  • A portable medical rescue device that could be administered by emergency medical personnel to pump oxygenated blood to a patient’s brain during transportation to a hospital, reducing the risk of brain damage from oxygen deprivation.
  • A method of splitting water into its component gases to provide an oxyhydrogen fuel gas that is far more efficient than current techniques. Water from almost any source could be used to power internal combustion engines, welding torches, and cooking stoves, among other applications.
  • An insulation system designed to deflect solar radiation from the roofs of concrete houses, which can reach temperatures of 180°F in tropical climates, making it impossible for air conditioners to remove the incoming heat. The carbon dioxide emission reduction from every device installed would be equivalent to removing one car from the road.
  • An inexpensive method of using a swarm of autonomous, solar-powered robots to eliminate the human risk involved in land mine detection and greatly expedite the land mine removal process across the globe.
  • A high-tech walking cane with the ability to lead the user to his or her desired location using voice recognition software and global positioning system (GPS) technology. By verbally entering a physical address into the system, a user activates the cane’s GPS system, which then leads them in the direction of the location.
  • A fire suppression system with the ability to detect fire, monitor changes, and control the system’s response based on fluctuating variables.
  • A technique to wash clothes that uses ultrasonic cleaning, centrifugal filtration, and ultraviolet sterilization to clean clothes using less than half the water, one-tenth the electricity, and scarce amounts of detergents compared to current typical laundry techniques. Clothes washing currently represents nearly a quarter of the United States’ water usage and a fifth of all energy use.

“Ideas submitted by this semester’s Change the World Challenge winners tackled complex issues including environmental sustainability, fire safety, and energy security,” said Chernow. “Solving the complex challenges of the 21st century will take innovation, inspiration, and dedication. Through their inventive, socially responsible designs, our students have proven that they have what it takes to make a difference on a global scale. I look forward to watching their ideas continue to develop.” 

The Change the World Challenge was created in 2005 by Rensselaer alumnus and entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan ’85. 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 in Troy, N.Y. He has started a number of other companies and organizations, including JumpStart International, an engineering humanitarian organization headquartered in Atlanta, Ga.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 3, Number 1, January 16, 2009
©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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