For many of us, college brings back memories of late-night study sessions and perhaps the odd party or two. But some college students are moving beyond text books and some of the more unsavory scenes from college to develop their own inventions and innovations that they are in the process of bringing to market.
Here are some of our favorites.
An easy-to-use, reusable IUD inserter
As a safe, effective form of birth control, there's a lot to be said for IUDs. They last for years, and they avoid the possibility of forgetting to take the pill. In parts of Europe and China, the popularity of IUDs is extremely high. Even here in the States — where IUDs have been somewhat stymied by an early health scare — the popularity is rising. According to USA Today, IUD use rose from 2.4 percent of female contraceptive users to 8.5 percent by 2009.
Nevertheless, their adoption is slowed up by one significant factor: they require a highly skilled, specially trained medical professional to insert them. Enter Ben Cappiello, a self-described "naive engineering student," who took up the challenge of inventing an IUD insertion device that could be used by pretty much any health care provider on the planet. If successful, such a device could greatly reduce the barriers to access for IUDs and decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Together with his business partner Schuchi "SK" Khurana, Cappiello launched a new venture to develop his senior project to a commercial reality. Calling themselves Bioceptive, the company has since secured more than $1 million in funding from angel investors, and attracted the attention of Saving Lives at Birth, a grant program funded in part by USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are currently looking to move from prototypes to mass production.
A gel to halt bleeding
A gel that instantly stops a wound from bleeding and begins the healing process sounds a little too good to be true. Indeed, it's a concept that has featured in many a sci-fi movie, including "The Hunger Games."
Invented by third-year NYU student Joe Landolina, Veti-Gel is undergoing further testing and seeking approval from the FDA. Here's how the writer described the mechanics behind this apparent miracle gel in his original post on the topic:
Veti-Gel (also sometimes called Medi-Gel) is a synthetic form of the extracellular matrix, or ECM, the substance that forms a kind of scaffolding in the body that holds cells together and also triggers the clotting process if there is an injury. In tests on rats, Landolina was able to close up a slice into the liver and a puncture of the carotid artery.
A 'secret knock' lock
Is it me, or did every other episode of "Scooby-Doo" involve someone finding a secret compartment that opened with a specific pattern of knocks? Well, college students Max Lesser and Andy Chen have taken this concept and applied it to an age-old college problem — getting locked out of your dorm room. Rather than leaving a key under a door mat, they say, the knock knock lock detects vibrations and then releases a key from under the door if those vibrations follow a secret, pre-set pattern.
Yes, it's not the most secure concept in the world. Yes, it won't work on an exterior door with weather stripping. And yes, a lock box with a number code would probably be easier anyway. But this thing is awesome. Who wouldn't want a door that opens with a set of secret knocks? In fact, I'd consider locking a room inside my house just so I got to open it with a secret knock.
Sadly, the Knock Knock Lock did not meet its IndieGoGo fundraising goal. (The world is clearly too full of realists.)
A gotta go button for dogs
The process of invention is not always about creating new technology, but rather repurposing existing tools and technology for new and innovative purposes. The "Gotta Go" button, invented by 20-year-old Chad Bingo, fits firmly in this latter category. Here's how Bingo described his "eureka" moment to NewsChannel3:
When Chad’s dog Gracie was a puppy, she would continuously scratch the back door whenever she wanted to go out, causing damage to the door. One night Chad and his father jokingly put a Staples Easy Button near the door, and to their surprise, Gracie pushed the button signaling that she wanted out. “We put it by the door not expecting her to do anything, and she pushed it and we heard 'That was easy,' and we thought this is a great idea.”
The button Chad developed is essentially a spin-off of the Easy Button, delivering a clear message to owners that their dog has "gotta go." Yes, it's debatable whether this message would be cute or downright irritating once you hear it the umpteenth time — but I'd be willing to bet there's quite a market for this stuff. The button is currently available via GottaGoButton.com.
Automated clean up of ocean garbage patches
OK, doggy-needs-to-go-poop buttons are nice. But this one might be my favorite.
Invented by 19-year-old Boyan Slat, this automated ocean cleanup array could — it's claimed — collect, separate and sort more than 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans in just five years. (Surely everyone has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by now?!) If deemed viable, the device would be sent to specific problem areas in the ocean and then, using huge booms to direct plastic toward a central platform, it would separate garbage from plankton and other marine life, sort it, and the resulting waste would eventually be sold for recycling.
Slat's website claims that this model is not just about altruism or conservation. There's a good chance, says his team, that the system would be so efficient as to actually make a profit from the materials it harvests. Such claims, however, are still under scrutiny, as Slat would be the first to admit. In a refreshing display of honesty and pragmatism, Slat's website displays the following disclaimer:
PLEASE READ THIS FIRST The last couple of months several (spontaneous) articles have been published, claiming The Ocean Cleanup Array is a 'feasible method' of extracting plastic from the gyres. This is an incorrect statement; we are currently only at about halfway through our feasibility study. Only after finishing that study, we believe such statements should be made. Although the preliminary results look promising, and our team of about 50 engineers, modellers, external experts and students is making good progress, we had and have no intention of presenting a concept as a feasible solution while still being in investigative phase.
You can see how Slat pitched the idea at a TEDx presentation above.
To learn about more college superhero inventors, check out the Collegiate Inventors Competition.