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Nanotechnology students triumph at the annual Esch awards

Monday, April 13, 2020

Innovative solutions to serious medical problems took four of six $10,000 prizes up for grabs when student teams competed via video this month in an annual pitch competition for startup companies. Three of the six winning teams consisted of nanotechnology students.

The new format, which replaced in-person presentations at the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design due to the coronavirus crisis, gave graduating students five minutes to explain their projects instead of the usual three minutes, followed by questions.

The winning ideas, picked from 15 finalists by a panel of judges who reviewed the videos, included wearable technology inspired by a team member who suffered a heat stroke while working outside one summer and ended up in hospital.

Members of KnowStroke

KnowStroke members (l-r) Ahmad Lakhani, Eniko Zsoldos, Methely Sharma and Matthew Pley are developing wearable technology to prevent heat-related illness.

Members of KnowStroke - nanotechnology engineering students Ahmad Lakhani, Eniko Zsoldos, Methely Sharma and Matthew Pley - responded by developing an armband to monitor workers in construction, agriculture and other fields.

Sensors in the band, including a novel sweat sensor, track biometrics and alert supervisors via a mobile app when workers are at risk of heat-related problems, including exertional heat stroke (EHS).

Zsoldos told judges in her recorded pitch that EHS annually causes over 6,000 hospitalizations and 600 deaths in the United States alone.

“That is far too many for something that is entirely preventable,” she said.

Launched in 2014 and funded by The Esch Foundation, the competition supports creative, entrepreneurial students in the pursuit of research and development, and its commercialization for the benefit of Canada.

The other nanotechnology winning teams were:

iuvoderm (Tiana Colantonio, Jonathan Wu, Hillman Leung and Adrianus Sukuramsyah - nanotechnology engineering)

A quarter of 425 million people with diabetes worldwide develop foot ulcers, which often result in amputation. The team is developing a patch for ulcers that is loaded with antimicrobial drugs to prevent and treat infection.

“Our dressing will only need replacing once a day,” said Colantonio. “This provides an inexpensive, easy to follow, set and forget solution unique to the market.”

Scope (Alisha Bhanji, Ishan Mishra, Holden Beggs, Fernando Pena Cantu and Zhenle Cao - nanotechnology engineering)

The lenses in smartphone cameras represent a $16.7 billion market. Scope aims to tap it with a lossless zoom function that uses liquid crystal lenses that are 50 per cent smaller and 15 per cent cheaper than the alternatives.

“Our expert team is focusing on what’s important - fixing smartphone lenses to let you take great photos,” said Beggs.

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