Eight UI engineering graduate students up for award

URBANA – Eight finalists have been selected for the $30,000 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize, the winner of which will be announced Wednesday.

The finalists, all graduate students in the University of Illinois College of Engineering, are:

– Ben Blaiszik, who worked with the UI's Autonomic Materials Group to put "self-healing" functions into materials to prevent microcracking damage and failure.

– Martin Page, who devised water-treatment systems for people in developing regions who don't have access to safe drinking water.

– Jang-Ung Park, who worked with Professor John Rogers to invent techniques for a printing process that could lead to the printing of various electronic devices at home. The devices could include flexible computer screens, cell phones and credit cards.

– Robert Shepherd, who is working on a "micro electrical-mechanical systems" fabrication technique that could generate hundreds of parts per second. Such systems are used in products including vehicle air bags and the Nintendo Wii.

– Adam Steele, who created a tough, environmentally friendly paint as well as products that help visually impaired people. He also created a social music Web site to harness the creativity of people worldwide.

– Han Wui Then, who co-invented an ultra-linear laser source with professors Milton Feng and Nick Holonyak Jr. The invention is expected to enable faster and cheaper network and computer technologies that will increase data speeds by more than 10 times.

– Murali Venkatesan, who with Nicholas Watkins is developing an affordable electrical sensing platform for the detection of multiple blood-borne diseases, including a platform that focuses on HIV/AIDS.

– John Wright, who has developed mathematical tools that improve the accuracy of facial recognition systems. Wright's system has a recognition rate of 91.4 percent, which is 13 percent better than its nearest competitor.

The eight finalists were chosen from about 25 graduate and undergraduate students from across campus who applied for the competition last fall, said Rhiannon Clifton, assistant director of the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.

A committee of faculty members selected the finalists, with the eventual winner being chosen by a panel of scientists, technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

The winner can use the $30,000 as he likes. The two previous winners – Michael Callahan in 2007 and T. Patrick Walsh in 2008 – applied their winnings to their projects, Clifton said.

Callahan developed a technology to help severely disabled people, such as stroke victims, communicate. Walsh came up with low-cost, rechargeable, solar-powered lanterns as a light source for people in developing countries.

The $30,000 prize, given for innovation and creativity, is provided by the Lemelson-MIT Program, which was established at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994 by inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy.

No monetary prizes are furnished to the other seven finalists, but three of them will go to EurekaFest, a celebration of inventors sponsored by the Lemelson-MIT Program, Clifton said.

This year's finalists come from five UI programs: electrical and computer engineering, materials science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, mechanical science and engineering and aerospace engineering.

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