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Innovation winners create recording system to enhance road safety

A team of NDSU students encountered a few speed bumps while developing a software program that uses vehicle-mounted cameras to record video and transfer it in real-time to the Internet. After all, the testing phase involved driving throughout town with cameras taped to the hood of a car.

“We definitely got some looks at stop lights,” said Drew Spooner, who along with his teammates spent about a week in fall 2012 driving around Fargo with cameras strapped to his car.

Their goal was to create a program that could help determine fault when accidents occur and identify perpetrators when a vehicle is broken into or vandalized, ultimately leading to cheaper insurance rates.

The project helped their team, Midwest Best, win the $1,000 People’s Choice Award at Innovation Challenge ’13, NDSU’s second annual student innovation competition, which was held in conjunction with Innovation Week ’13 Feb. 25 through March 1.

The team of sophomores consisted of Spooner, a marketing and management major from Fargo; Bryce Heustis, a finance major from Devils Lake, N.D.; and Anna Haugen, an accounting major from West Fargo, N.D.

“Innovation Week is a great opportunity for students to showcase their ideas and learn new skills through experience,” Spooner said.

The team’s goal was to use two to four cameras to create a 360-degree view around the car. They taped, strapped and otherwise rigged ways to apply high-definition cameras to a vehicle. About the size of an adult fist, the cameras were placed in different locations and angles.

They then developed software to relay the footage to a recording system, which records constantly but only stores the previous 20 minutes of footage. Any recording before that is self-deleting. After a vehicle’s internal or external sensors are triggered, it is designed to instantly store the previous 20 minutes of video and continue to record for an additional 30 minutes onto a hard drive inside the vehicle.

Heustis compares the idea to the “black box” recording device used in commercial aircraft, but with one major difference. “You don’t need to retrieve our device,” he said. “The information is uploaded to the Internet in real time with the same technology your cell phone uses.”

Heustis said he envisioned the Midwest Best camera and recording system being installed on the vehicle at the assembly line.

The team hopes the product will enable insurance companies to determine who is at fault when accidents occur or catch a hit-and-run driver. They also feel it will allow vehicle owners to have a lower insurance rate because insurance companies will charge less for lower-risk vehicles. Some insurance companies already are using forms of on-board diagnostics to lower premiums.

“I don’t have the technical expertise right now to take this project to reality,” Heustis said. “But we learned a lot of real-life experiences – forming the idea, perfecting it and presenting it. The project may have stopped, but the real-world application is something we’ll continue to develop.”

Innovation Week ’14 is scheduled for March 3-7, 2014. Entries will be accepted this fall for the event.

Innovation competition winners make dental implant breakthrough

Updated August 02, 2013

Innovation is often born from passion. It’s ignited by a passion to learn, grow and find answers to complicated questions.

That’s the common thread between NDSU students Emily Steil, Shelby Schields, Sarah Lindblom and Hannah Green. They’ve all got a passion for research.

You can hear it in every word they speak. And you can see it in the results.   

Steil, Schields, Lindblom and Green recently determined the ideal pore size for growing cells that will allow a new dental implant to integrate into a patient’s jawbone. The research could eventually revolutionize dental implants by providing a ceramic alternative to standard titanium.

“We all have the same goal,” said Steil, who earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology last spring and is entering her first year at the College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics at the University of Iowa. “We want to get this thing figured out. It’s a long process, but we are working on it. The most exciting thing is that we were all undergrads. This is really advanced for us and we are pushing our limits.”

NDSU students are developing the implant under the guidance of David Wells, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering.

A subgroup of NDSU’s Bison Microventure student research team, the four students focused on developing a method for correlating the cell size and channel dimension of the new implants to improve its long-term success. The process involved placing the same amount of cells on several plastic sample implants with different pore sizes. The samples were monitored for cell growth and integration.

The breakthrough research earned Steil, Schields, Lindblom and Green the intangible innovations award  – and $5,000 – in Innovation Challenge ’13. The annual innovation competition highlights inventive work being done by NDSU students.

Why the need for a new dental implant?

Screw-shaped titanium dental implants are less aesthetically appealing than ceramic and are sometimes rejected by the body as a foreign substance.

Ceramic, which has elements similar to bone, could allow cells to grow and adhere to it more naturally while providing a more visually appealing product.

The innovation group has come up with a pore size it believes is optimal for cell growth on a ceramic implant. Their research method will be used to help simplify other elements of the dental implant research.

“Their research this past year is very, very exciting,” Wells said of the Innovation Challenge winners. “We have a much, much, much better understanding now because of what these kids did. We know what size of pores to worry about. We know what sizes seem to be larger than optimum and we know what is too small.”

Bison Microventure, consistently comprised of about 20 members, is slowly moving closer to making the ceramic implant a reality.

The group’s students, with varying majors from music to zoology to engineering, are also studying ceramic’s anti-microbial properties and the possibility of deviating from a screw-shaped implant that is widely used.

Progress is entirely up to the students. So is the next step in working toward a finished product. Wells, who funds the project mostly with his own money, said he frames the question, then simply asks students what they would like to accomplish and how they wish to achieve their goals.

Then he stays out of the way and watches the students dig in.

Bison Microventure is a one-credit undergraduate course that requires participants to meet two hours a week. But the project isn’t confined to a classroom or lab.

Many students spend hours together off campus discussing the project. And the group is in the beginning stages of exploring a crowdsourced funding platform to help the project move forward more rapidly.  

This isn’t about course credit. It’s about passion. It’s about innovation.   

“The more I spend time with the project the more I fall in love with it,” Schields said. “It’s so unique. No one gets to do hands-on dental research. And this could make a huge impact on dental implants in the real world. That is amazing.”

Student innovation team uses corn to help combat cancer

Updated July 26, 2013

Corn may prove a vital material in the fight against colon cancer, thanks to the scientific achievements of a team of NDSU students.

The team, called “Corn Oncologists,” was one of the top finishers in Innovation Challenge ’13, NDSU’s second annual student innovation competition. The Corn Oncologists group took the $5,000 first prize in the corn-based innovations track, sponsored by the North Dakota Corn Council. The competition was held in conjunction with Innovation Week ’13 held Feb. 25 through March 1.

Since early fall semester 2012, the young scientists worked long hours in a laboratory developing a corn-based material to encapsulate cancer drugs. The idea is to make a capsule that dissolves at the optimum time to deliver the drug directly to the colon during digestion, while minimizing the effects of chemotherapy.

“Everyone in our whole lab was new; we all came here to NDSU at that time,” explained team member Dusan Petrovic, a senior majoring in chemistry who is an exchange student from Smederevo, Serbia. “This was a project where we all worked hard together.”

In addition to Petrovic, Corn Oncologists included Nilushni Sivapragasam, a graduate student in chemistry from Colombo, Sri Lanka; Darshika Amarakoon, a December 2012 cereal science graduate from Gampaha, Sri Lanka; and Su Hyeon Hwang, a junior majoring in food science and technology from Seoul, South Korea.

“We saw large business potential for the material, if everything works,” Petrovic said. “Everyone was so excited to win the competition. It motivated us to work even harder, stay a few hours longer each day. We are a good way toward producing the capsule for experimentation – I expect we will be very close in a few months.”

Petrovic, who returned to Serbia in May, said his scientific teammates also studied marketing and business practices to better present their project to the Innovation Challenge judges.

“The competition was a really great opportunity,” Petrovic said. “In my country, I worked on some summer research programs, but I actually never had the opportunity to work on research for the business world. I think I really enjoy that.”

According to the team’s faculty adviser, the experience was important and rewarding in several areas.

“Students were able to gain experiential learning, things beyond their normal classroom and course activities. They took the path in taking scientific inventions to commercial opportunities," said Pushparajah Thavarajah, assistant professor in the School of Food Systems. “The team members also learned their scientific ideas are useful and actually can solve a societal problem.”

Petrovic is excited about the team’s work and the potential of the finished product.

“For us as students, it would be expensive to start a small business or get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” he said. “But, maybe we can sell our ideas to a large pharmaceutical company.”

Innovation Week ’14 is scheduled for March 3-7, 2014. Entries will be accepted this fall for Innovation Challenge ’14.

Innovation competition winner creates better way to test drug 

Updated July 17, 2013

The first thing you notice about Erin Nyren-Erickson is her sassy red hair. Then how animated she is as she talks about liposomes and the ups and downs of conducting research.

She is a doctoral student in pharmaceutical sciences, and she’s already had one of those aha moments. Hers hit on a Saturday morning. Sept. 26, 2012, to be precise.

Nyren-Erickson had been working on a better way to test the blood-thinning drug heparin for contaminants. She walked into the lab that Saturday morning thinking about something Professor Sanku Mallik said about the best screening tests providing a clear positive or negative result.

From literature in the field, she knew traditional tests relied on chemical structure to identify contaminants. The problem was certain contaminants looked like heparin structurally, leading to false negatives. Another type of test was more accurate but also was expensive and time consuming.

How could she create a simple, accurate, inexpensive test? She had a theory she wanted to try out. She started mixing stuff. Her idea was on target.

She saw changes occurring in the vials of clear bright pink liquid. In the vial that contained the compound found in contaminated heparin, bright pink clumps formed and sunk to the bottom. The liquid in the vial of pure heparin turned turbid, showing significantly less change.

The bright pink clumps sparked two years of research that ultimately led to a new, more quantitative, more cost-effective test that will prevent allergic reactions and save lives.

The test has a provisional patent and is now being marketed to drug companies. Nyren-Erickson also took top honors in Innovation Challenge ’13, NDSU’s second annual student innovation competition. She won her category and the best-in-show prize—a total of $10,000—for the test.

Mallik encouraged Nyren-Erickson to enter the competition. She needed that nudge and encourages students who have good ideas to go for it.

“A lot of people are held back by thinking their idea isn’t good enough,” she said.

“Go ahead and try it. Don’t discourage yourself. Just being part of it will help you make your project better.”

Some research discoveries are building blocks for other researchers. Nyren-Erickson is the kind of researcher who likes to develop an idea into a product.

Participating in the Innovation Challenge gave her the opportunity to talk with local entrepreneurs who presented on topics such as angel investors versus capital ventures, sales and marketing, and how to build a successful team. She also gained an understanding of the infrastructure needed to establish a business and the resources that are available.

Nyren-Erickson earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in 2003 and a Master of Business Administration in 2012. She will complete her doctorate in August.

Innovation Week ’14 is scheduled for March 3-7, 2014. Entries will be accepted this fall for Innovation Challenge  ’14.

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Vice President for University Relations
North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-1068 - Fax: (701) 231-1989
Campus address: Old Main 204
Mailing address: Dept 6000 PO Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050
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Last Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014 4:36:14 PM