From left to right: James Stevenson, sponsor of the TechQuest competition; Zara Williams, assistant director of NJIT's Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaurete Achievement Program; Judith Sheft, NJIT's associate vice president of technology development; Angie Perna, director of NJIT's Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaurete Achievement Program; Michael Ehrlich, NJIT associate professor of finance; and Lou Eccleston, president of S&P Capital IQ, a business unit of McGraw Hill Financial, Inc.
NJIT's second annual TechQuest and Innovation Day proved a brilliant showcase of the deep range of innovative talent and entrepreneurial skills possessed by students across disciplines, from engineering, to the life sciences, to business and finance. Among the noteworthy projects to win prizes at the event were a cutting-edge method for detecting and monitoring glaucoma, a skin graft technology, and an imaging device.
In addressing students, faculty, administrators, and guests at the event on Friday, Fadi Deek, NJIT’s provost and senior executive vice president, called undergraduate research opportunities an important aspect of an NJIT education and critical to the welfare of the U.S., which he described as “falling behind” other developed nations in producing STEM majors.
“Our standard of living can be retained only if we are providing more people like you,” he noted, while encouraging the student researchers to “be ambassadors on behalf of your country and your generation in keeping this country strong and viable.”
The TechQuest undergraduate invention competition, which awarded prizes at the event, promotes and rewards innovation among NJIT undergraduates by encouraging small interdisciplinary teams to work together to develop research ideas. The competition is sponsored by the James Stevenson Foundation, which this year gave out a total of $14,000 in awards divvied up among the three top-placing teams. Three-quarters of the funds go toward summer stipends to team members to continue their research.
Hassan Muhammad ’14, a biomedical engineering major from Clifton, and Roa Al-Abdalla ’14, a biology major from Fairview, won first place in the TechQuest competition for their innovative, non-invasive method and device for detecting and measuring glaucoma. Working with their advisor, physics professor Gordon Thomas, the pair developed a technology that allows patients themselves to continually monitor fluid pressure within the eye, a symptom of glaucoma, through the eyelid.
In their research proposal, Muhammad and Al-Abdalla describe glaucoma as the second leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, while noting that many people are unaware they have the ailment. Monitoring is important, they say, because the only current means of interrupting progression of the disease is through timely interventions to lower intraocular pressure such as medication and surgery.
The second place winner, Quik Graft, proposes using a modified 3D-printer to create an antibiotic-resistant skin graft compact enough to be employed on-site and capable of yielding ready-to-apply skin grafts within a span of hours. The third place award went to CAS-Imaging, a device that would be incorporated into fMRI machine to detect 3D (lateral, axial and rotational) head movement and analyze it in real time.
“I think it’s important that our students are asked to consider the commercialization potential of their research ideas. TechQuest submissions, for example, were judged not only on their inventiveness, but on their market viability as well, requiring our students to think about how they would propel their ideas from Bench to Bedside or from the Lab to the Market,” said Judith Sheft, associate vice president of technology development.
Winners of the Big Data Visualization Challenge, a contest sponsored by S&P Capital IQ, a business unit of McGraw Hill Financial, Inc., were also announced at the event. The competition was designed to immerse undergraduates in the high-stakes world of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by challenging them to pitch hypothetical acquisition targets to technology company executives using cutting-edge research, analytics, and data visualization tools available on S&P Capital IQ’s desktop platform.
Members of the winning team were Geoffrey Ching, a junior majoring in business and finance, James Barr, a senior majoring in finance and accounting,Orest Bidnyk, a senior majoring in accounting, Pedro Santos, a senior majoring in civil engineering, Rodolfo Marquez, a junior majoring in accounting and finance, and Grant Barr, a senior majoring in mathematics and finance.
The winners received iPad Air devices, while all participating students were evaluated for the opportunity to become an S&P Capital IQ intern.
Lou Eccleston, the president of S&P Capital IQ and keynote speaker at the event, emphasized the importance of what he called a critical combination – “learning how to learn,” communications skills, and discipline – in maintaining the “sustained competitive innovation” necessary to prevail in today’s technology-rich global marketplace.
More than 40 students presented their research, inventions, business concepts, and creative works on Innovation day from programs such as the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaurete Achievement Program, which assists students to receive awards for their research presentations and enrollment in graduate programs and first put on a research symposium 15 years ago.
Other programs represented included the Undergraduate Research and Innovation program, which enables students to become researchers and to select projects that will address societal problems, enhance our quality of life, and contend with global challenges; the Student Innovation Acceleration Club, which gives students the forum to develop business concepts utilizing a lean start-up methodology; the undergraduate Biophysics Program; the Interdisciplinary Design Studio.