Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, No. 11, June 14, 2013

“Best-of-the-Best” Prize Awarded for Self-Healing Bioglass Technology

The Change the World Challenge, sponsored by the Office of Entrepreneurship, is a twice yearly competition open to all current Rensselaer students. The challenge encourages the development of innovative ideas with the potential of achieving the Rensselaer goal of changing the world.

Each semester, up to 10 ideas that can improve the human condition are recognized as winners and share in a prize pool of $20,000 for the two semesters. In 2010, an added $5,000 “Best of” award was specially created to accelerate the progress of a fall or spring student entry that demonstrated a strong commitment and clear momentum in pursuing the commercialization of its idea.

The 2013 Best-of-the-Best award was presented to Glenn Rothwell ’16 for his concept to create a self-healing bioglass technology. The
innovation is a radical new kind of glass that integrates two compounds that bond at a molecular level in the presence of sunlight to pull broken glass back together to repair itself and preserve its original optical clarity.

Self-Healing Bioglass has countless
applications in a range of fields. A logical first step for market entry is the global smartphone industry…valued at $150 billion. The display industry alone is worth an estimated $39 billion.

“Selecting a ‘Best of’ winner from the submissions of 2012-2013 Change the World Challenge winners was made difficult by the quality, potential, progress, and inventiveness of a dozen well-developed entries,” said Rob Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship and chair of the competition. “In addition to the creativity in our students’ ideas, we are impressed with how many are continuing to evolve and expand their innovations. I believe the judges felt there were several entries that show excellent potential.”

Glass has been around for over 5,000 years. In that time, the materials used to make it have been refined, and the manufacturing process has been automated. It may seem that glassmaking has been reduced to a simple and effective science. However, it is a major problem that glass is easily broken and not completely repairable. Today’s glass is usually made from silica, sodium oxide, and lime. Although silica glass is recyclable, it is still made from nonrenewable raw materials. Numerous, expensive electronic devices with glass displays, such as smartphones, are commonplace in today’s technological society. These displays are easily broken and expensive to repair. The Self-Healing Bioglass proposal intends to solve this problem by developing self-repairing display panels made from renewable resources that utilize solar energy to heal the glass.

Self-Healing Bioglass has countless applications in a wide range of fields. A logical first step for market entry is the global smartphone industry. By 2014, it is estimated that 1.5 billion smartphones will be in use worldwide. The global smartphone industry is valued at $150.3 billion. The display industry alone is worth 26 percent of this, or an estimated $39.5 billion. Beyond mobile phones, the bioglass has potential in a variety of other glass applications.

A member of the Class of 2016, Rothwell is a dual major in aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering. He will remain on campus this summer to pursue further research and development of a prototype by replicating the actual self-healing bioglass reaction in a lab setting through collaboration with several faculty members.

“Glenn has demonstrated a strong commitment to the continued development of his unique idea, including securing a provisional patent,” said Chernow. “To advance his technical progress, he has already engaged several top Rensselaer faculty with expertise in materials science, glass, chemistry, and polymers. They are mentoring him and providing labs and resources to help bring his concept to reality. As well, during this summer, he has been selected to participate in Rensselaer’s Foundry research program. The Best-of-the-Best prize can have a significant impact in accelerating his project,” said Chernow.

In addition to the Change the World Challenge, Rothwell recently was judged winner of the overall Best Pitch prize in the Office of E*ntrepreneurship’s fourth annual Elevator Pitch Competition.

The Change the World Challenge was created by Rensselaer alumnus, serial entrepreneur, inventor, filmmaker, and venture capitalist Sean O’Sullivan ’85. O’Sullivan earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer and was a founder and first president of software firm MapInfo Inc. He has started a number of other companies and organizations and is currently co-founder and managing director of Avego Corporation. He was selected as the 2011 William F. Glaser ’53 Rensselaer Entrepreneur of the Year.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, Number 11, June 14, 2013
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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