Finding a Lower Cost Solution for World's 285 Million Visually Impaired People

Washington University student start ups tackling vision problems, cancer detection and more

Released: 30-May-2014 3:40 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Washington University in St. Louis
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Newswise — Projects to provide low-cost eyeglasses for people in the developing world and to develop a cell-death detector will share $25,000 in cash to further develop their projects as winners of the 2014 Discovery Competition. Washington University in St. Louis’ School of Engineering & Applied Science created the competition in 2012.

In addition, two teams — The Rekord and Vaccine SmartBox — tied for third place.

One winning team is Envisioning Solutions, headed by Nathan Brajer, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in biomedical engineering, and Evan Madill, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in biology, in Arts & Sciences. The other is Viamor Research Solutions LLC, headed by Ben Berman, an incoming senior majoring in computer science; Ryan Charnov, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in entrepreneurship and economics/strategy in Olin Business School; Michael Harding, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in biomedical engineering and entrepreneurship; and Elizabeth Russell, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in biomedical engineering.

Each team will receive $12,500 in cash and $2,500 in legal services from the Polsinelli law firm.

Dennis Mell, director of the Discovery Competition and professor of practice in electrical and systems engineering, said Envisioning Solutions and Viamor Research Solutions had identical scores from the judges, resulting in the tie.

The Rekord team, which designed a social media platform to allow for sharing, discovering and cataloguing of musical content across social networks, was awarded $7,500 in cash. The Vaccine SmartBox team, which created a battery-free refrigeration system for vaccines in developing countries, was awarded $5,000 in cash and $2,500 in legal services from Polsinelli.

“We are very proud of all of the students on all of the teams,” said Ralph S. Quatrano, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “It was clear to me and to all of the judges that the overall level of team development this year was significantly improved over last year. Each of the finalist teams had very creative proposals that will have impact in the developing world, in research and in entertainment.”

Envisioning Solutions will offer simple components that allow users to slide eyeglass lenses on and off of the frame until they determine their desired prescription strength. Optometrists are not always available in some developing countries. The World Health Organization estimates that about $270 billion in economic development could be created each year in developing countries by providing glasses to people who need them. The team has made 3-D printed prototypes and has sent market surveys to several nongovernmental organizations in developing countries, in which they plan to do field tests this summer.

Viamor Research Solutions has developed a novel solution to replace prior methods of testing whether cells are dying. The team developed an inexpensive technology that uses recent advances in digital holography, an imaging technique that relies on optical components and software to reproduce a 3-D rendering of the sample. The system will take images of about 100 samples in less than five minutes without destroying the cells. The product will be targeted to cancer and cell-biology research.

The Rekord team designed a free Web and mobile-based platform that allows artists, blogs, users and organizations to post, catalog and share music. The platform is integrated with YouTube and Soundcloud.

Members of The Rekord team are Tarek Elhage, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in mathematics and economics and strategy; Julian Phan, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in systems science/engineering and finance; Michael Parker, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in entrepreneurship and marketing; Alexis Copithorne, an incoming senior majoring in communication design, in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts; Andy Garvin, who earned a bachelor’s degree this May in business administration; Sam Donohue, an incoming senior majoring in systems science/engineering and computer science; Louis Wilson, an incoming junior majoring in systems science, engineering and computer science; and S.J. Lee, an incoming junior majoring in economics/strategy and finance.

The Vaccine SmartBox team created a way to prevent the loss of vaccines in the developing world. Often, vaccines are wasted after being exposed to unsafe temperatures during storage in villages where electricity is inconsistent or nonexistent. The team developed a temperature-precise, battery-free refrigeration system that does not rely on the power grid.

The system uses an absorbent mineral called zeolite that soaks up water and cools while it evaporates. The team’s members are Anne Shellum, an incoming senior majoring in mechanical engineering and energy engineering; Andreea Stoica, an incoming junior majoring in mechanical engineering; Sarah Schubert, an incoming junior majoring in mechanical engineering; Justin Muste, an incoming junior majoring in biochemistry; Bo Huang, an incoming junior majoring in chemical engineering and finance; North Kay, an incoming junior majoring in electrical engineering; Kwok-Hao Lee, an incoming sophomore majoring in mathematics and economics; and Bryan Cai, an incoming junior majoring in computer science, mathematics and finance.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science launched the Discovery Competition in September 2012 to promote new and innovative discoveries to solve challenges or needs. The competition provides engineering undergraduate students the forum to explore their entrepreneurial interests with support from mentors, to use their creativity to develop solutions for real-world problems and to compete for financial resources that could help turn their ideas into businesses. The competition is an annual event and is funded by engineering alumni.

Teams were comprised of currently enrolled WUSTL undergraduate students, with at least one engineering student and at least one non-engineering student on each team.

For more information, visit engineering.wustl.edu/discovery.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 82 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.


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