October 24, 2003

Students Compete in $50K Inventors Contest

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Two Cornell graduate students and a Cornell research assistant have advanced to the final round of the Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Keith Aubin grad, Robert Reichenbach grad and research assistant Maxim Zalautidinov created a dome-shaped micromechanical oscillator, a device that would enable many electronic devices, especially telecommunication technologies, to be produced at smaller sizes with more efficient performances. The team’s invention impressed judges early on in the competition, earning the trio a chance to win the coveted $50,000 grand prize.

The team from Cornell faces six undergraduate and eight graduate teams in the competition, sporting inventions including a voice-controlled telephone, a reversible running stroller and a formic acid fuel cell.

Reichenbach, a student in the Department of Electrical Engineering, stated that his team’s invention is “so small you can barely see it. … It’s so small, so fast, and it has such a huge impact.”

Reichenbach’s scientific interest developed with the birth of the Internet, and his affinity for electronics was fostered by spending time with stereo equipment during his youth.

Zalautidinov, the team’s senior member, is excited to be working with nanotechnology. He believes their new oscillator could open doors in the field of artificial intelligence, aiding in the creation of circuits capable of advancing the A.I. technology.

“That’s the most interesting thing to me,” Zalautidinov said.

The competition is sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a nonprofit organization based in Akron, Ohio. Rini Paiva, a public relations representative for the Hall of Fame, described the organization’s mission as honoring the men and women who have changed the face of the world through their inventions. Inductees are “inventors whose work is life-changing, such as the inventor of the respirator or the electron microscope,” Paiva said. Past inductees into the Hall of Fame include Thomas Edison for the electric lamp, Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone and Samuel Morse for the telegraph.

The competition, now in its 14th year, is committed to recognizing outstanding achievement in both undergraduate and graduate inventions.

“This is a competition … where the most promising entries are the winners,” Paiva said. “[The Cornell team is] very typical of the caliber of finalists we’re looking for.”

Aubin, Reichenbach and Zalautidinov are currently in Manhattan, eagerly awaiting the final results of the competition. As of Wednesday afternoon, “all of the teams have gone through the final phase of judging,” Paiva said. The winning team will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange this morning as a symbol of their potential impact on the world market.

Aubin is aware of the challenge his team is up against.

“The competition’s pretty stiff,” he said. “There are some projects that seem as though we’d have a better chance [to beat] than others, but overall, everything’s fairly even.”

Aubin added that the entire process has been exhilarating for him and that he “always seem[s] to be in a hurry.”

He also offered advice to those who might follow in his footsteps: “Be very careful in picking your research group. Make sure it has the promise to go somewhere.”

Archived article by Dan Wolpow