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The University of Wisconsin-Madison's undergrad engineering contest was swept this year by a senior who came up with a solar energy collector that concentrates the sun's rays.
Angie Franzke's concentrating solar collector won first place last Friday in both the Schoofs Prize for Creativity and the Tong Prototype Prize, winning $12,500.
Instead of the mirrors that many current solar systems use to collect energy, Franzke used a flat Fresnel lens to concentrate a large amount of energy on a small area. A spraying system uses the heat to generate steam, which can heat water for household use or drive a turbine to generate electricity.
"I think everyone in our class entered the contest," said Franzke, who was encouraged to present her invention by a senior design class for engineering majors. Innovation Days this year featured 16 teams with a total of 52 students. Their inventions were diverse, including a community-based security system, several devices to aid people with physical limitations, and a pressurized water bottle for athletes.
As in past contests, the students' intentions are also varied. Some plan to create businesses, and some already have. Others are still a year or more away from graduating, or intend to go on to graduate school.
"Students who participate in extracurricular activities such as the Innovation Days idea and invention competitions also cultivate their curiosity and hone their interpersonal, communication, technical and business skills," said engineering dean Paul Peercy.
In addition to her solo win with the solar collector, Franzke was on the team that won third place in the Schoofs contest for a self-leveling wheelchair tray that stays horizontal even if the wheelchair is tilted up to 45 degrees.
"We had a professor come up to us and ask if we could give him a private demonstration sometime because he could see applications in nursing homes," Franzke said.
A competition veteran also showed up as part of the team that won a $1,000 award for the best presentation on its theatrical lighting accessories. Nick O'Brien was on last year's winning team, which created FireSite, a navigation system for firefighters in smoke-filled buildings.
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UW-Madison: Full list of this year's awards