Inventors square off at Penn

    Student inventors at the University of Pennsylvania vied in a contest of innovation and marketability last week. WHYY reports on the annual PennVention innovation challenge.

    Student inventors at the University of Pennsylvania vied in a contest of innovation and marketability last week. WHYY reports on the annual PennVention innovation challenge:

    This year the 10 finalists pitched ideas for disposal shower shoes, a pocket-sized camping grill and a new way to keep up with friends electronically.

    Biotechnology student Geoffrey Chu helped invented a new medical device to treat Parkinson’s Disease.

    Chu says right now the best treatment is a pill, but the medication wears off leaving patients with Parkinson’s hallmark tremors and muscles spasms.

    Chu: What our product would do is eliminate those fluctuations to create a constant low level releases of the drug. Because a lot of the side effects come because of those fluctuations.

    The device is a stent, or metal tube that would be placed inside an artery in the neck. It gets packed with cells that produce the anti-Parkinson’s protein levodopa. Even if snapped up by a biotech firm, the invention would face years of lab testing and safety trials before it could become available.

    Graduate student Chiara Zuniga is studying electrical engineering at Penn. Her team designed a mini-detector that monitors the air and senses the presence of different gases or nerve agents.

    Zuniga: So when one of these molecules gets attached on the sensor, the sensor will detect the shift in weight, and be able to tell you: OK, we have a nerve agent in the room.

    Zuniga says sensors on the market right now weigh about 12 pounds and can cost more than $20,000. Her model is the size of a cell phone and would cost about $800. The team hopes to sell the idea to the homeland security industry.

    Geoffrey Chu and his team PD Solutions won this year’s $5,000 top prize.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.