Campus-Wide Innovation Prize 2021 Finalists!

4/5/2021 1:49:36 PM

The Technology Entrepreneur Center in The Grainger College of Engineering is pleased to announce 2021 finalists of the campus-wide innovation awards. The Illinois Innovation Prize (IIP) for $20,000 is awarded annually to a creative and passionate student working towards innovative solutions that could have a positive societal impact.

 And the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship for $10,000 supports innovations that address cultural or global challenges that incorporate creativity, the arts/design, and technology into interdisciplinary solutions. The Fellowship is part of an endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to the University of Illinois in support of the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute, which is based at the National Center for Supercomputing Application.

This year 5 students made to the finalist list. Learn more about them. 

Ariana Barreau, MD Class of 2024, Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Ariana Barreau aspires to be a physician-innovator who solves health disparities and improves patients’ quality of life. She is the co-founder of ProteCKD, a chronic kidney disease (CKD) pre-screening program that aims to reduce racial disparities in renal care and health expenditures in CKD care. African Americans are 3.5x more likely to reach end-stage CKD compared to white counterparts and are less likely to know that they have CKD. Ariana has developed a CKD pre-screening kit that includes urine-testing strips and educational materials to connect users to local and affordable healthcare resources. Ariana aims to offer marginalized patients an economical way to assess CKD risk for early diagnosis and treatment. She plans to partner with food banks, shelters, and other social programs to distribute kits to communities that need it the most. 

Passionate about promoting interdisciplinary innovation and facilitating medical entrepreneurship, Ariana has also co-founded AxisMED, a healthcare pre-incubator that aims to provide a launch pad for students interested in advancing medicine and grow a collaborative community of healthcare entrepreneurs across campus.

Shonit Nair Sharma, Medical Student, Carle Illinois College of Medicine

Shonit Sharma is dedicated to applying technology and engineering to solve complex healthcare problems affecting a diverse global population. He has developed Paperometer, a low-cost and environmental friendly version of the incentive spirometer (a handheld breathing tube). Made of paper, Paperometer, is a respiratory rehabilitation device for patients with reduced lung function, including coronavirus-related pulmonary symptoms. Respiratory disease is a leading cause of death and disability globally, with over 1 billion people suffering from illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Shonit partnered with the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Maker Lab, Department of Bioengineering, Carle Foundation Hospital, and i-MADE (RSO) to prototype, publish, and test his device for distribution to low-resource settings. He also helped address the PPE shortage during the pandemic by creating a reusable respiratory mask with user-friendly instruction guide. 

Shonit is also leading an Institutional Review Board-approved study to identify retinal biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease, the primary cause of dementia, affecting 47 million people worldwide. He hopes to inspire the next generation of physician-innovators to reframe problems as creative opportunities.

Maha Alafeef, Graduate Student, Bioengineering, Grainger College of Engineering

Maha Alafeef’ s research work is focused on the use of translational bioengineering approaches to detect genetic materials of pathogens, such as SARS-COV-2, with the overarching goal of offering a rapid and accurate test that can be widely deployed. She has developed an inexpensive, yet highly accurate nucleic acid-based test for COVID-19 diagnosis with sample to assay time of less than 5 minutes requiring no RNA isolation or nucleic acid amplification. The technology was recently licensed for commercialization to RNA Disease Diagnostics, Inc., an early-stage biotech company. The test will support RNA Disease Diagnostics’ efforts to develop and manufacture proprietary molecular disease diagnostic testing kits, enabling the company to quickly and accurately detect multiple infectious diseases, helping to lead the prevention of their transmission and spread.

Maha Alafeef has designed, developed, fabricated, and provisionally patented several technologies responding to COVID-19 pandemic. While she is not constantly pushing herself to develop countless ideas into creations that can benefit humanity, Maha can be found mentoring next generation scientists. 

Homa Khosravian, Graduate Student, Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering

Homa Khosravian is addressing the problem of keeping health care providers, patients with compromised immune systems, and emergency vehicle drivers safe during the pandemic. She is developing a non-emergency autonomous vehicle-based service. The design of the autonomous car will help keep patients isolated from other people and safe during and after the pandemic. She is also working on a design that will take into consideration the health condition of the rider and provide maximum comfort during transit or hospital visits. According to Homa, the key is to create a mapping between vehicle dynamics, road surface condition, and patient’s pain level to effectively plan the vehicle motion. A cost-effective and safe approach to find this mapping is to use a driving simulator to replicate the real-world and use EEG sensors to measure patient’s comfort levels. Patients with limited movability will also be able to seamlessly interact with the autonomous vehicle. Homa is hoping to leverage a multidisciplinary approach involving expertise from robotics, human-computer interaction, medical sciences, and mechanical engineering to develop the autonomous car. 

Gabriel Price, Graduate Student, School of Integrative Biology, Liberal Arts & Sciences

Gabriel Price is the founder of Earnest Earth Agriculture, a company that is helping farmers solve the problem of solid waste management by transforming harmful waste into safe, nutrient-rich bio fertilizer. Gabe has developed, fabricated, and patented a new bioreactor system to improve agricultural sustainability by improving waste management practices directly on farms. Improper agriculture waste management accounts for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions created annually in USA. Gabe's innovation can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

As a PhD candidate, his research work is focused on the use of microorganisms to suppress pathogens in crops, with the hope to replace chemical and synthetic pesticides. Gabe believes that addressing plant pathogen infection in crops will improve food security and enhance crop yield. Pathogens are responsible for up to 40% of the losses in the crop yield globally. He strongly believes that true innovators continue to push themselves and develop countless ideas into creations that can benefit humanity.

Join us and see who wins the Illinois Innovation Prize for $20,000 and the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship for $10,000! View the Awards Ceremony LIVESTREAM, Thursday, April 15 at 6:00pm. No registration necessary.