Illinois Innovation Prizes




Frequently Asked Questions

Must the award money be used for research?

No, it's an unrestricted cash gift. $20,000 in cash is awarded. However, it may be awarded to more than one student, and divided at the discretion of the judges.

Do I have to be in The Grainger College of Engineering to apply?

No. We accept applications from any undergraduate or graduate student on campus regardless of major or college. Winning applications are not based on your major but are based on the innovation you present in your application.

Who is eligible to apply?

All students who are enrolled full-time, and designated as on-campus students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the academic year in which the award will be presented, are eligible to apply. Because of COVID-19, students aren't required to physically be on campus, but they must be designated as regular, on-campus students to be eligible.

What is the process to apply?

You must be nominated in order to apply. Once you've been nominated, you'll receive an email stating that you've been nominated and that an application is required. The application consists of a few questions, and submitting your resume, references, and supplemental materials. Judges will review all applications and invite a select few for an interview. If you are selected for an interview, you will be notified in February and interviews will take place in March. The winner will be announced in April.

Do I need many nominations?

You only need one nomination to be considered for the award. The amount of nominations you receive does not affect the judging process.

When is the deadline to nominate?

The deadline for the 2020-2021 academic year is Monday, February 1, 2021.

Am I required to have a patent?


Do I forfeit my intellectual property rights by submitting an application?

Generally, no. We use only titles and short descriptions of inventions for public relations purposes. Additionally, the judging panel will be asked to keep in mind that student applications are distributed solely for the purpose of evaluation for the Illinois Student Prize and should not be reproduced for other purposes.

However, please be aware that you will be barred from obtaining patent protection, if the patent application is filed more than one year after a "publication" that may permit a person reasonably skilled in the field to make the invention based upon your application. In addition, you will be barred from obtaining patent protection in foreign countries.

Please consult the Illinois policies relating to intellectual property, the Office of Technology Management, and the USPTO to ensure protection of your intellectual property.

Who are the judges?

The judges panel is comprised of Illinois alumni and entrepreneurs as well as faculty members representing diverse areas of expertise across several colleges and departments.

Previous Winners and Finalists

The Illinois Innovation Prize (IIP) for $20,000 is awarded annually to an innovative student working towards solving global and societal challenges with the potential for a significant positive impact on the world. The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship for $10,000 is now also awarded in conjunction with the Illinois Innovation Prize (this combined effort began in 2019). This award supports innovations that address cultural or global challenges that incorporate creativity, the arts/design, and technology into interdisciplinary solutions. 

2021 Illinois Innovation Prize Winner - Maha Alafeef

Photo of Maha AlafeefMaha Alafeef is a graduate student in Bioengineering in The Grainger College of Engineering. Maha'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 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.

2021 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship Winner - Ariana Barreau

Photo of Ariana BarreauAriana Barreau is a first year medical student in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Ariana, also one of the IIP finalists, was recognized for Fiddler Innovation Fellowship. Ariana 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. The Fiddler Innovation 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 Applications (NCSA).

2021 Finalists

Homa Khosravian, Gabriel Price, Shonit Sharma

2020 Winner - Ananya Tiwari

Ananya Tiwari is the co-founder of the SwaTaleem Foundation that is transforming the government schools in extremely remote regions of India into model schools to solve the complex problem of child marriage by increasing educational outcomes for young girls. Ananya believes that building girls’ capacity through formal education and livelihood training will enhance their ability to negotiate key life decisions that are crucial for delaying early marriages. By using a human centered transformative approach, along with integrating socio-emotional learning with school education of girls and the teachers, Ananya aims to enable constructive engagement of the primary stakeholders (adolescent girls, teachers, government officials, and funders) towards driving educational outcomes through active participation, feedback, and creating opportunities to collectively problem-solve. The foundation fosters participatory development by enhancing leadership capacities of the primary stakeholders towards driving their own transformation. Girls develop cognitive aptitude and socio-emotional skills; teachers develop socio-emotional skills, learner centered teaching practices, and emerge as problem-solving champions; and the government has better school and development indicators. Ananya was awarded $20,000 as the recipient of the Illinois Innovation Prize.

Ananya Cleetus, one of the IIP finalists, was recognized for receiving the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship. Ananya is the founder of Anemone, a mental health crisis app that aims to destigmatize mental illness. The app allows users to create a customized crisis plan, and share it with friends, family, first responders, and mental health professionals. Mental health illness is a growing crisis, especially among youth in the U.S. One in five Americans suffer from a mental illness and the U.S. has around 1.4 million annual suicide attempts (compared to an annual 1.5 million heart attacks). Channeling her own struggles into a positive tool for others to use, Ananya aspires to be on the front lines of mental health crisis, and work on the next big innovation in the field.  She says, “While many people grow up learning about CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, or even ‘stop, drop and roll’, they typically are not given any education about mental health at all. Anemone aims to bridge this education gap and provide valuable resources.” Ananya received $10,000 as the recipient of the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship. The Fiddler Innovation 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 Applications (NCSA).

2020 Finalists

Gabriel Price, Gabe Tavas

2019 Winner - Siddharth Krishnan

Siddharth Krishnan

Siddharth Krishnan is a PhD candidate in Materials Science and Engineering. He has developed a noninvasive, wearable shunt failure monitor for patients with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus affects approximately one million Americans in every stage of life and is the most common reason for brain surgeries in children. The shunt failure monitor has the potential to bring down the costs associated with expensive, inaccurate, and painful diagnostic testing. Learn more about Siddharth and his startup Rhaeos, Inc.

Jewel Ifeguni

Jewel Ifeguni, one of the IIP finalists, was recognized as well for receiving the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship.

2019 Finalists

Shayne Chammavanijakul, Jewel Ifeguni, Benjamin Khachaturian, Amaury Saulsberry

2018 Winner - Kathleen Hu

Kathleen Hu

Kathleen Hu is a senior in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering and founder of Dibbs. Dibbs is a technology platform and organization to connect excess food at grocery stores to local food pantries. Dibbs is on a mission to reduce food waste while fighting hunger.

2018 Finalists

Jamila Hedhli, Rohit Kalyanpur, Hiba Shahid, Lucas Smith, Benjamin Thompson

2017 Winner - Lucas Frye

Lucas Frye

Lucas Frye is an MBA candidate in the College of Business and co-founder and CEO of Amber Agriculture, a startup focused on automating grain management. Using IoT-enabled wireless sensors and cloud analytics, their technology enables farmers to capture the highest possible price for their crops. Lucas utilized his farm background and Bachelor of Science in Agricultural and Consumer Economics along with his co-founder’s engineering skills to win the 2016 Cozad New Venture Competition. Since then, Amber Agriculture has taken part in the iVenture Accelerator and was named the Best Startup at the Consumer Electronics Show by Engadget. While at Illinois Lucas was the President of the College of ACES Council, co-director of the University of Illinois Student Alumni Ambassadors, winner of the Warren K. Wessels Achievement Award to the most outstanding senior in the college of ACES, Senior 100 Honorary: Top 100 Campus Seniors based on University of Illinois Leadership and Loyalty, and was a student trustee on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

2017 Finalists

Bilge Acun, Olaoluwapo Ajala, Daniel Gardner

2016 Winner - Aadeel Akhtar

Aadeel Akhtar

Aadeel Akhtar is a Neuroscience Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Illinois, currently enrolled in the College of Medicine. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago, Magna cum laude, with a B.S. in biology and a M.S. in computer science in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Aadeel is also the CEO and Co-founder of PSYONIC, a startup developing highly advanced, low-cost prosthetic hands – the first with sensory feedback -- to those who need them around the world. PSYONIC took home the 1st place prize in the 2015 Cozad New Venture Competition before participating in the iVenture Accelerator in the summer of 2015. His passion for helping amputees comes from a trip to Pakistan in the summer of 1994 when he met a girl his age missing her right leg. The girl was using a tree branch as a crutch, and Aadeel could not understand how two people with the same ethnic background could have such vastly different qualities of life. He then made it his mission to help amputees, such as the girl he met in Pakistan as a child, improve their quality of life.

2016 Finalists

Mayank Kale, Matthew Alonso

2015 Winner - Ritu Raman

Ritu Raman

Ritu Raman, PhD Candidate in Mechanical Science and Engineering was announced as the 2015 winner and awarded with $15,000. Ritu is focused on developing and commercializing 3D printing technologies for applications in biomedical engineering. Specifically, Ritu is interested in using 3D printing to manufacture biological building blocks, or BioBlocks. These BioBlocks can harness the innate abilities of biological materials to sense, process, and respond to a variety of dynamic environmental signals in real time. Ritu plans to use experiential learning and empirical discovery as a tool to train the next generation of makers, builders, and inventors.

2015 Finalists

Ahmed Khurshid, Amy Doroff

2014 Winner - Canan Dagdeviren

Canan Dagdeviren

Canan Dagdeviren, a PhD Candidate in Materials Science and Engineering won the 2014 Illinois Innovation Prize for her research in applications of piezoelectric materials and patterning techniques for unusual electronics with an emphasis on bio-integrated systems, such as bio-sensors, actuators, transducers, and mechanical energy harvestors in flexible/strechtable forms.

2014 Finalists

Analisa Russo, Paul Froeter, Adam Tilton, Peter Fiflis, James Pikul

2013 Inaugural Illinois Innovation Prize Winners - Rajinder Sodhi & Brett Jones

Rajinder Sodhi

Rajinder Sodhi’s invention, AIREAL, allows users to feel physical forces in the air without requiring any instrumentation of the user. This technology enables new interactive experiences, such as movies and games that can deliver physical forces to a viewer and objects in their environment. Other applications include assistive technologies for visually-impaired users. Rajinder's research lies at the intersection of computer vision and human computer interaction and he focuses on creating new Augmented Reality experiences that blurs the line between our physical and virtual worlds. 

Brett Jones

Brett Jones strives to merge physical and virtual worlds. His current project, IllumiRoom, augments the area surrounding a television screen with projected visualizations to enhance the traditional living room entertainment experience. IllumiRoom uses a Kinect and a projector to blur the lines between on-screen content and the environment. Brett’s research makes content creation for this type of projection mapping cheaper and easier, turning it into a new creative medium that can be used to bring magical experiences to advertising, hands-on education, theater, gaming and in-home computing.

2013 Winner - Eduardo Torrealba

Eduardo torrealba

Eduardo Torrealba, a graduate student in Mechanical Science and Engineering, created his company Oso Technologies after a simple search to keep household plants alive. His first product, Plant Link, monitors the moisture needs of specific plants and can deliver water on an as-needed basis using smart valves. Torrealba is the 2013 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2013 Finalists

Eleni Antoniadou, Michael McCartyArnab MukherjeeLucas Smith, Brett Walker

2012 Winner - Kevin Karsch

Kevin Karsch

Kevin Karsch, a doctoral student in computer science, has helped develop a technique for inserting objects and special effects into photos and videos without taking physical measurements of the scene. The technique can be performed by novices in a few minutes. Karsch is the 2012 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2012 Finalists

Sriram ChandrasekaranJames LangerPradeep S. ShenoyMuhammed Fazeel

2011 Winner - Scott Daigle

Scott Daigle

Scott Diagle is working on IntelliWheels, a new product that replaces manual wheelchair wheels and adds automatic gear shifting to reduce the amount of effort required to push the chair. Daigle is the 2011 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2011 Finalists

Zeba Parkar, Colin Lake

2010 Winner - Jonathan Naber

Jonathan Naber

Jonathan Naber, guided by his passion for helping those less fortunate, has developed an affordable prosthetic arm for people in underdeveloped countries with the help of his team, Illini Prosthetic Technologies. Putting aside his initial focus to make a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm with electronic components, Jonathan has created an arm from off the shelf materials that is extremely functional, durable and easily manufactured. Naber is the 2010 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2010 Finalists

Kira Barton, Stephen Diebold, Scott Daigle

2009 Winner - John Wright

John Wright

John Wright has developed new mathematical tools that drastically improve the accuracy of facial recognition systems such as those used at Boston’s Logan airport, the 2001 Superbowl, and by the Tampa, Florida police department. Wright is the 2009 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2009 Finalists

Martin Page, Jang-Ung Park, Robert Shepherd, Adam Steele, Murali Venkatesan, Ben Blaiszik, Han Wui

2008 Winner - Patrick Walsh

Patrick Walsh

Patrick Walsh is working towards changing the way 1.6 billion people light their homes. Patrick’s solar-powered LED lamps are a brighter, healthier, longer-lasting, and less expensive lighting option for people with unreliable electricity. Walsh is the 2008 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2008 Finalists

Chris Field, Yun Fu, Shravan Gaonkar, Stephen Diebold

2007 Winner - Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan hopes to assist individuals without the use of speech and mobility to communicate through the application of neuroscience. Callahan is the 2007 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize.

2007 Finalists

Shao Liu, Matthew Meitl, Zheng Ni, Craig Robinson, Kumara Sastry, Bhezad Sharif, Renata Sheppard

Illinois Innovation Prize

The Illinois Innovation Prize (IIP) for $20,000 is awarded annually to a creative and passionate student working towards solutions that could have a positive societal impact. Innovations developed as a response to the pandemic are encouraged as this illustrates the power of innovation during times of ambiguity and uncertainty. Since 2007, $320,000 has been awarded to student innovators.

Students must be nominated by a faculty member, mentor, or advisor. Mentors don't have to be employed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students may not nominate other students. To qualify, students must be considered an on-campus student during the 2020-21 academic year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (We realize that many students are remote due to Covid.) For more information, please refer to our Rules and Guidelines document. Students participating in an online degree program are not eligible for this award.

Those nominating should look for a student who:
•    Is a creative and passionate innovator
•    Is working on a novel innovation with the potential to create a positive impact
•    Inspires others

Fiddler Innovation Fellowship

The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship  for $10,000 from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden is an annual student scholarship awarded by eDream to an undergraduate student who shows promise of significant, innovative achievements. Jerry Fiddler believes that the most interesting and urgent problems and opportunities often lie “between the cracks”. This award supports innovations that address cultural or global challenges that incorporate creativity, the arts/design, and technology into interdisciplinary solutions. 

The Fiddler Innovation 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 Applications (NCSA).

Expectations of Winner(s)

  • Be a role model on campus
  • Participate in promotional videos for the program
  • Speak about the program and its impact at info sessions and other events  
  • Attend the 2022 IIP ceremony to award the next year’s winner, and speak about the impact the award had on their innovation

Photo of Maha Alafeef
Maha Alafeef
Photo of Ariana Barreau
Ariana Barreau

2021 Winners

Learn about Maha Alafeef (2021 Illinois Innovation Prize Winner) and Ariana Barreau (2021 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship Winner) here.

Potential Areas of Innovation

(This is not an all-inclusive list of innovation categories--its purpose is to get you thinking about how many types of innovation can qualify for IIP.)