Rensselaer Students Rewarded for Innovative Ideas To "Change the World"

December 20, 2007

Rensselaer Students Rewarded for Innovative Ideas To "Change the World"

Troy, N.Y. — Five teams of students are being rewarded for imagining innovative ways to make the world a better place, from a low-cost solar water purification system to a “smart badge” for law enforcement officers.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has announced the winners of the “Change the World Challenge” competition for fall 2007. Created in 2005 by Rensselaer alumnus Sean O’Sullivan ’85, the competition is intended to support entrepreneurship education and inspire innovation 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 include improving safety and security, and addressing clean water and energy issues in developing nations. Submissions are judged on both novelty and feasibility, and up to 10 entries each semester are selected to receive an award.

The five winning ideas from the fall 2007 competition are:

  • a low-cost solar water purification system to pasteurize enough water for a family of six, developed by Alicia Lin, Nicholas Kirsch, Christina Gambino, and Tiffany Hu. Current water filtration systems aimed at purifying contaminated drinking water are often unaffordable and impractical for citizens in developing nations.
  • a built environment that supports equilibrium between the reproduction and death rate of three types of bioluminescent strains of algae, created by Paul Hurlock-Dick, Sarah DiNovo, Aaron Henshaw, Christhian Kim, Louis Martinelli, and Carly Strife. Bioluminescent organisms give off light as a byproduct of a chemical reaction in which chemical energy is converted to light energy. Maintaining organism equilibrium keeps light output at a constant rate, providing light for individuals in developing nations where electricity is scarce.
  • a jacket designed to incorporate numerous levels of defense against life-threatening dangers developed by Sarah DiNovo. The proposed jacket would include an automated 911 distress call device, a global positioning system (GPS), and a “smart” locking zipper to prevent unwanted removal, among other security features.
  • a next-generation law enforcement badge that incorporates a variety of electronic safety features, including a camera, global positioning chip, and an officer’s radio developed by Sarah DiNovo and Louis Martinelli. Called the “Smart Badge,” the device incorporates existing technologies into a wearable network.
  • a redesign of the pot-in-pot cooler system widely used to preserve foods in developing nations, created by Alexander Morein, Garrett Scheffler, Jacquelyn Colarusso, and Richard Willems.

Present pot-in-pot coolers feature a smaller pot filled with fruits and vegetables nestled within a larger pot, with the space between filled with sand and water. As the water evaporates, heat is pulled from the interior of the smaller pot, keeping the food cool and preserved. The students proposed to increase the device’s thermal efficiency through applied concepts of thermal conduction and insulation.

Winners of the fall 2007 competition will be recognized during a celebratory breakfast in January.

“This year’s winning ideas tackled issues ranging from water purification and food preservation to electricity alternatives and self-security, illustrating the variety of ways in which our students propose to change the world,” said Robert Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship at Rensselaer and chair of the competition. “I applaud the fall 2007 group of competition winners and look forward to seeing them fully realize their ideas and inventions.”

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 $1.26 billion.

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


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit