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CappSci Inventors program awards inaugural prizes

Andrew C. Baker, Associate Professor, Department of Marine Biology and Ecology alongside Ph.D. candidate Rivah Winter,(right) both from the University of Miami, speak with Eldredge Bermingham and Chimene Longwater, (left) they are finalists for the CappSci Inventors Prize with their proposal "Stress Hardening Corals'' during "Nerd Nite" at Gramp's in Wynwood on Thursday. On Friday night, they were selected the winners and they will be creating their innovation at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science for a year, as well as receiving $100,000 to fund their work, plus mentorship and support.
Andrew C. Baker, Associate Professor, Department of Marine Biology and Ecology alongside Ph.D. candidate Rivah Winter,(right) both from the University of Miami, speak with Eldredge Bermingham and Chimene Longwater, (left) they are finalists for the CappSci Inventors Prize with their proposal "Stress Hardening Corals'' during "Nerd Nite" at Gramp's in Wynwood on Thursday. On Friday night, they were selected the winners and they will be creating their innovation at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science for a year, as well as receiving $100,000 to fund their work, plus mentorship and support. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

To win the CappSci Inventors Prize, it wasn’t enough for the scientists and engineers to be able to present their work to fellow academics and scientific leaders — they also had to win the hearts of a group of students representing three high schools and startup community members attending “Nerd Nite” in Wynwood. That’s just one of the ways that the new prize program is unique.

CappSci, a science nonprofit that runs innovation prize programs, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science announced that Andrew Baker and Rivah Winter of the University of Miami and Prasoon Diwakar of Purdue University were selected as the winners of two inaugural CappSci Inventors challenges; one called for solutions for protecting coral reefs and the other was for protecting humans from carcinogens. And when the new museum opens next summer, patrons will be able to watch the innovations come to life over the course of a year.

The CappSci Inventors program will distribute $1 million over five years to 10 inventors, offering fresh approaches to solving major global problems. Winners received a $100,000 grant to support a 12-month residency at Miami’s new Frost Science to build out and test their early stage technology.

Baker and Winter, both Miami residents, won for their project on stress-hardening corals, which involves priming corals with heat-tolerant processes to increase stress resistance and make reef restoration more effective as ocean temperatures rise. At their booth at Nerd Nite at Gramp’s bar in Wynwood last week, Winter, a PhD student, said she was excited about the possibility of getting out of the lab and being able to interact with museum goers and the science community in such an interactive and public way, combining her passions for scientific research and education.

Diwakar, a resident of Indiana and a research scientist, won for his proposed Laser-induced Breakdown Spectroscopy Detector, a portable instrument for real-time detection of carcinogens in airborne material as well as solid or liquid samples. His solution, a sampling kit that can be used by anyone, is quick, effective and less expensive than existing solutions, making it accessible to schools, airports, museums, government and private office buildings and other venues, Diwakar said on Thursday while showing off his booth. He, too, likes the idea of “bringing science to the people.”

Gillian Thomas, president and CEO of Frost Science, said that the residency with the Frost Science Innovation Labs will offer mentorship, important contacts and critical feedback. “The visitor interface is a critical component of the program and showcases the capacity of the Innovation Labs to engage the entire community in addressing 21st century challenges,” she said.

Inventors will work in an open laboratory housed in the museum’s Innovation Labs, Thomas said. Museum visitors will be able to observe the inventors in action, see a real-time log of their progress and share ideas with them. Accompanying exhibits will explain the underlying science and technologies in coral restoration and carcinogen detection.

The inaugural winners were chosen from dozens of global entries and were among six finalists who participated in a rigorous final evaluation process, which included input from Miami-Dade County Public Schools students, the local startup community and an expert judging committee. Winners were selected based on their invention’s technical potential and suitability for public participation in a museum setting.

“Part of the prize is about technology, but part of it is engaging the community, and we wanted winners who could do both,” Ted Caplow, CEO of CappSci, said Monday. “There’s tremendous excitement in Miami around trying to make Miami a tech city, and CappSci Inventors is my effort to play an important role in that. We have a new and unique model to harness the power of the crowd to incubate startups and foster good ideas that have the potential for global impact.”

The other two finalists presenting coral reef research were Remy Okazaki and Benjamin Mason of the University of Washington and Steve Whalan of Southern Cross University in Australia. The other two finalists with carcinogen-detecting solutions were Vinay Bhardwaj of Florida International University and Jose Almirall and Anamary Tarifa, also of FIU.

For the carcinogen category, the judges were Norma Kenyon, University of Miami’s vice provost for innovation; Svetlana Shtrom, director of technology commercialization at the University of Central Florida; and Jon Yoo, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Buffalo. For the coral reefs prize, judges were Reia Guppy, assistant professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (Marine Sciences and Environmental Studies Department); Carrie Manfrino, founder of the Coral Reef Conservancy; and Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation.

Interestingly, the high school honors students from Miami Beach Senior High, Sunset Senior High and William H. Turner Technical School chose the same winners as the judges, Caplow said. 

Caplow said next year’s CappSci contest will do a better job of conveying the full spectrum of what the prize offers from a career standpoint; it’s not just money to build a technology, but the opportunity to gain professional exposure to mentors and other experts as well as investors and potential partners. He said CappSci will continue the interactive judging process. “All of our finalists said they really appreciated the opportunity to speak to school kids in the morning, adults in the evening in an informal setting, and have a more formal pitch to experts the next day. ... My hope is that anyone who is involved with any of our contests learns something and gains something.”

For more information on CappSci Inventors, visit www.cappsci.org.

In addition to the CappSci Inventors program, CappSci is also leading the Miami Science Barge project, a public floating marine sustainability lab that won the inaugural 2015 Knight Foundation Cities Challenge and will be stationed near Frost Science.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg.

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