Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize Winner and Two Surprise Awards Announced

TEC News Stories

3/5/2013 2:56:00 PM

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For More Information:
Danyelle Michelini
Technology Entrepreneur Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
(217) 333-1210


$30,000 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prizes Awarded to Inventive Students Nationwide;

Three Leading Institutions Celebrate 2013 Winners

URBANA, Ill. (March 5, 2013) – Eduardo Torrealba, a graduate student in Mechanical Science and Engineering, is the winner of the seventh annual $30,000 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize, funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program. This prize recognizes and awards innovative students passionate about solving grand challenges and striving to be entrepreneurial.  He is among the three 2013 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize winners announced today.

Pairing his experiences from trips to developing nations with his skills as a mechanical engineer, Torrealba created his company Oso Technologies. He witnessed problems like water shortages, power outages and air quality warnings that impact the lives of people around the world. However, he also noticed that there was widespread cell phone service. Thus, by detecting these problems in real time on a hyper local scale and routing resources around or toward the problem areas, millions of lives could be improved.

His first step in this direction was the creation of Plant Link, which monitors the moisture needs of specific plants and can deliver water on an as needed basis using smart valves. This system was initially built to ensure that he and his wife could keep their house plants alive, but its applications in other fields are expansive.

By 2025 more than 1.8 billion people around the world will live in areas of absolute water scarcity. In the cases of agriculture and manufacturing, water management will be the key to sustainably utilizing this limited resource. In its early stage, Plant Link will cater to home lawns and gardens where 50 percent of our domestic water usage occurs. However, a “not so distant” future version of the system will be aimed at farmers in emerging economies who cannot afford the expensive soil moisture monitoring systems currently on the market giving this technology a huge potential to impact the sustainability and costs of water usage on a global scale.

“Invention is critical to the U.S. economy.  It is imperative we instill a passion for invention in today’s youth, while rewarding those who are inspiring role models,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “This year’s Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize winners and finalists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign prove that inventions and inventive ideas have the power to impact countless individuals and entire industries for the better.”

The Illinois selection committee also acknowledged finalists Brett Jones, CS PhD, and Rajinder Sodhi, CS PhD, by awarding each the inaugural Illinois Innovation Prize along with a $10,000 gift provided by Engineering at Illinois. “The talent this year was so incredible that the judges simply found it impossible not to celebrate and award more than one,” said the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s Director, Andrew Singer. “As a result, with the help and support of the College of Engineering, we created and awarded two of the first Illinois Innovation Prizes to two outstanding individuals.”

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.

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. 


Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prizes
In addition to Torrealba’s pioneering work, the other winners of the annual Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize were announced today at their respective universities:

  • Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winner Nikolai Begg has developed medical devices to make “puncture access” medical procedures, such as laparoscopic surgeries and epidurals, less risky. Many minimally-invasive procedures use puncture access devices that plunge forward after breaking through tissue. Begg’s “force sensing” mechanism has a blade that retracts the moment it passes through tissue, significantly lowering the risk of damage to underlying organs when creating a pathway into the patient’s body.
  • Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize Winner Ming Ma has developed a new method to manufacture light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are brighter, more energy efficient, and have superior technical properties than those on the market today. His innovation holds the promise of hastening the widespread adoption of LEDs and reducing the overall cost, energy consumption, and environmental impact of illuminating our homes and businesses.


Celebrating innovation, inspiring youth

The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries. http://web.mit.edu/invent/


The $30,000 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995. 


A land grant college founded in 1867, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is dedicated to its tradition of excellence and innovation its missions: education, research, and public engagement. More than 2,200 faculty members lead nearly 42,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students in a process of discovery and learning in 17 colleges and schools and more than 80 research centers and labs. Illinois faculty members have been recognized with most prestigious national and international awards, including Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, Tony Awards, and National Medals of Science and Technology.  

The University of Illinois is renowned for its international connections and collaborations. These international partnerships provide a growing number of opportunities for Illinois students, as well as faculty, to work with renowned colleagues around the world.


The College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a legacy of groundbreaking accomplishments and remarkable new discoveries that change the world and enrich the lives of people everywhere, every day.

The faculty includes engineers, scientists, and educators who are not only leaders in their fields but innovators who pioneered some of those fields. The world-class facilities support collaborations with researchers across disciplines and from around the world.

Excellence in education means preparing students to take leadership roles wherever their aspirations guide them. Engineering at Illinois provides students with the exceptional technical education and professional skills development they need to be successful practitioners, inventors, entrepreneurs, and leaders in industry and academia--positively impacting society around the world.

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