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UW-Madison Undergrads Shine at Innovation Days

Madison, Wis. -- A collapsible ice-fishing net, a polymer sorting machine and a BMX-to-ski bike conversion kit took top honors out of a field of 22 inventions University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduates presented at Innovation Days, Feb. 12 and 13.

The projects competed for the Schoof’s Prize for Creativity and the Tong Prototype Prize, both sponsored by UW-Madison alumni. Many of the projects will go on to compete in the marketplace.

“We place quite a bit of weight on the commercial potential,” said Matt Younkle, winner of the 1996 Schoof’s Prize and one of this year’s three judges. “We’re looking for something that’s more than a science project.”

First place in the Tong Prototype Prize competition went to a flotation sorting device for polymer pellets -- an alternative to laboriously separating differently sized pellets with tweezers.

Chemical and biological engineering student Aaron Wallander, who spent a summer internship learning how tedious this process can be, won $2,500 for his prototype, which uses an electric drill to stir up a small tank of water containing the polymer. Lighter pellets float into an adjacent tank while heavier ones sink and remain behind.
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Though flotation has been used to sort other materials, Wallander said it sometimes takes a new perspective to see applications for technology.

“It’s hard, when you’re just told to do something, to come up with a new way to do it,” he said.

In order to make the device commercially viable, “We’d have to re-evaluate the design,” he said. “We wouldn’t be using a drill for a motor.”

The ICE-Net X, a collapsible net made to fit through narrow ice-fishing holes, landed first place in the Schoof’s competition. Inventors Nicholas Passint, Joe Cessna and Bryan Wilson, all from the engineering mechanics and astronautics program, won $10,000 and also took the third-place Tong Prototype Prize for $700.

Their net folds out like a quarter of an umbrella to trap fish against the ice from below, and then collapses with the fish inside to easily fit through a small hole. It would retail for around $60, Wilson said.

“Compared to summer net prices, that’s not even an expensive net,” he said. “And if you had this net for ice fishing, you could replace your summer net.”

A kit for converting an ordinary BMX into a ski-bike won $1,000 for having the best presentation, a new category. Eric Schroeder, Mike Guthrie, Aaron Nimityongskul and Luke Henke created the kit to appeal to BMX owners interested in “extreme” winter sports. Though the short, in-line skis intimidated some onlookers, the team invited passerbys to bounce on the shock absorbers and watch a video presentation of the bike in use on a ski hill.

“If you know how to ride a bike, you can ride the ski bike,” Nimityongskul said. He said the kit would retail for $400 to $450 and could be sold in both bike and winter-sports shops.

Other prototypes included a sticker whose color fades as time passes and could indicate expiration dates, a light that projects glowing messages on ice rinks from below and an engine that produces its own hydrogen fuel from water and antifreeze.

Paul Peercy, dean of the College of Engineering, presented the winners with their prizes and commended all the teams for their participation.

“Quite frequently, the winners of the competition have gone on to succeed with their ideas,” he said. “If the results this year are like those last year, some companies will be started.”

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