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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Announces Winners of "Change the World Challenge" Student Idea Competition

January 24, 2007

Rensselaer Announces Winners of "Change the World Challenge" Student Idea Competition

Winning ideas range from water purification device to organic materials for home insulation

Troy, N.Y. — Four entries were recognized today as the winning ideas of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s “Change the World Challenge” competition. Created in 2005 by Rensselaer 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 ideas 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 challenges from this competition include decreasing a nation’s energy use, increasing energy generation, and improving the water conservation, purification, and recycling efforts in underdeveloped countries. Submissions are judged on both novelty and sensibility, and up to 10 entries each semester are selected to receive an award.

The winning ideas from the fall 2006 competition are:

  • an invention that uses reverse osmosis to remove viruses, bacteria, and hard metals from the water in the Amazon, developed by freshman engineering students Michael Chung-Hua Doo, Alexandra Lamparski, Christopher Byung Min, and Oliver Williams
  • a plan to use an organic mineral as a source of household insulation for heating and cooling, devised by senior science and technology studies major Eben Dutcher Bayer
  • a water purification device that boils bacteria-laden water while simultaneously cooling already purified water, developed by junior mechanical engineering major Samuel Harrington
  • a proposal to create a form of refrigeration independent of electricity to help preserve food and medicines in Third World countries, created by freshman engineering students Andrew Cunningham and Adam Kell.

Beyond the standard cash prize, these winners also received the funding necessary to secure provisional patents for their ideas. Additional support will be given to students in recognition of the “best of the best” ideas, awarded at the end of each school year.

“We all have the opportunity and the responsibility to improve the world around us,” says O’Sullivan. “It gives me optimism about our future to see these students’ engineering solutions addressing some of the world’s toughest challenges, and I hope to see some of these ideas fully develop into businesses.”

Two teams of students — responsible for inventing a healthier means for open-flame food preparation and a piezoelectric ambient energy harvester — were each awarded $100 and honorable mention in the fall 2006 competition.

“Through his generosity, vision, and personal examples, Sean O’Sullivan has inspired the next generation of scholars to apply their skills for the good of mankind, and to become socially responsible entrepreneurs,” said Robert Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship at Rensselaer and chair of the competition. “I applaud this group of competition winners for their innovative ideas and inventions – they truly embody Rensselaer’s ‘Why not change the world?’ attitude.”

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.

In October 2006 O’Sullivan donated $2 million toward the Institute’s $1.4 billion Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to fund the Rensselaer Center for Open Software, an initiative that will support the development of open software solutions to promote civil societies in the United States and across the globe.

About the Campaign
Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, launched in 2004, fuels the Institute’s strategic Rensselaer Plan, and supports groundbreaking interdisciplinary programs which have at their core the technologies driving innovations in the 21st century: biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and experimental media. The campaign aims to build the Institute’s unrestricted endowment, and also seeks funds for endowed scholarships and fellowships, faculty positions, curriculum support, student life programs, and athletic programs and facilities. To date, the effort has raised more than $1.2 billion.

Link to printer-friendly pdf  Change the World

Contact: Amber Cleveland
Phone: (518) 276-2146