Public Release: 

College students recognized & rewarded for their innovative work

They receive prizes of $15,000 to $50,000 for technologies that will change our world

National Inventors Hall of Fame

Akron, Ohio (October 3, 2004)--At a ceremony held on Saturday, the Collegiate Inventors Competition announced its 2004 winners. This year's winners have found ways to improve existing atomic scale microscopes, employ early detection systems that could help test for diseases such as Alzheimer's, and further an emerging field known as microfluidics.

An undergraduate winner, a graduate winner, and a grand prizewinner were selected from fourteen finalist teams. Advisors for each winning team were also recognized for their contributions. The 2004 winners are:

Grand Prize Winner, $50,000
Ozgur Sahin, Harmonic cantilevers for nanoscale sensing (Nanoscale microscope), Stanford University

Graduate Winner, $25,000
Jwa-Min Nam & Shad Thaxton, Bio-bar-code amplified detection systems (Bio Barcodes), Northwestern University

Undergraduate Winner, $15,000
Wei Gu, Computerized microfluidic control for cell biology using Braille display (micro plumbing), University of Michigan

The winners, along with the other finalists, were all recognized for their groundbreaking achievements in front of an audience of educators, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, and technology leaders. All of the students had submitted their work to the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

All fourteen finalist teams made presentations before a final panel of eight judges on October 1st and 2nd, which included representatives from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In total, 120 entries were received for this year's competition from universities around the world. A first round of judges evaluated entries in order to select the fourteen finalists.

Don Keck, a final phase judge and an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the invention of optical fiber, said, "You won't find a better preview of cutting edge technology than in the inventions of this year's finalists and winners of the Collegiate Inventors Competition. These students are outstanding innovators. Young men and women like this will provide the kind of creativity needed to make the world a better place for future generations, and this competition celebrates their inventiveness."

Undergraduate winner Wei Gu, 21, has found a way to microscopically control small amounts of liquid, for anything from medical purposes to chemical analysis. He has created a simple but robust machine that acts as a miniature plumbing system, complete with microscopic pumps, valves, pipes, and mixing chambers. He employs a piece of rubber in which he has made tunnels using molding and lithographic techniques, then places it on top of a portable Braille display which features small metal pins that rise and fall to create Braille letters. Gu discovered that the small amount of pressure exerted by the pins can clamp internal tunnels shut. By creating a computer program that can vary the patterns of applied pressure, his device can pump, mix, and shut off flow. A native of Ann Arbor, Gu is a senior chemical engineering major at the University of Michigan. His advisor, Dr. Shuichi Takayama, receives a $5,000 prize.

Graduate winners Jwa-Min Nam, 30, and Shad Thaxton, 28, of Northwestern University have worked to create what they call "bio barcode amplified detection systems." The process has a simple goal: to find miniscule amounts of microscopic biological materials. Because their invention is so much more sensitive and precise than previous types of tests, it could be used to detect chemical signs of Alzheimer's disease, Mad Cow Disease, or types of cancer far earlier than conventional tests. Their advisor on this project is Dr. Chad Mirkin, who receives a $5,000 prize.

Ozgur Sahin, 24, of Stanford University, is the grand prizewinner of the 2004 competition. Sahin was still an undergraduate when he first thought about the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), an instrument capable of taking pictures of individual atoms and used by a wide range of researchers, from people designing cutting-edge computer chips to biologists trying to learn the inner workings of cells. Sahin thought about making the AFM probe vibrate in a harmonic, and realized he could provide depth and richness to the pictures taken with the AFM. He made the work the basis of his graduate studies, and his improved microscope is especially useful for examining molecule-sized pieces of biological samples, giving medical researchers a powerful new way to study biological processes. His advisor for his work is Dr. Olav Solgaard, who receives $10,000.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is an international competition designed to encourage college students to be active in science, engineering, mathematics, technology, and creative invention. This prestigious challenge recognizes and rewards the innovations, discoveries, and research by college and university students and their advisors for projects leading to inventions that can be patented. Introduced by the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990, the Collegiate Inventors Competition has annually rewarded individuals or teams for their innovative work and scientific achievement. For more information on past winners and this year's finalists, visit


The National Inventors Hall of Fame is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recognizing, honoring, and encouraging invention and creativity. A primary activity of the Hall of Fame is honoring the men and women responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social, and economic progress possible. In addition to the Collegiate Inventors Competition, another popular program of the Hall of Fame is Camp Invention®, a summer day camp for elementary-aged children. For more information, visit

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