NJIT's Fourth Annual Innovation Day

The 2016 TechQuest winners with sponsor Jim Stevenson.

A 3D-gaming device that will immerse players in contests against ogres, aliens and menacing spiders to correct a vision disorder that causes blurriness and headaches, sapping attention and, ultimately, learning capacity, won a first-place prize at this year’s TechQuest, NJIT’s annual undergraduate invention competition.

The project, which combines the talents of John Vito D’Antonio-Bertagnolli ’16, a biomedical engineer from Mount Laurel who wrote the device’s eye-tracking algorithm, and Robert Gioia ’17, an IT major and game designer from Copiague, N.Y., was among the approximately 70 or so undergraduate projects featured at NJIT’s fourth annual Innovation Day, an invention-packed showcase of cutting-edge, student-led research, design and development across programs and disciplines.

Projects on display on computer screens in the Campus Center Atrium ranged from a micro biochip for diagnosing pneumonia, to an autonomous snow-removal device, to a battery-free  device for “connecting everything” to the Internet through light.

Another team, including Andrea Cano ’17, a civil engineer from Linden and Maira Valencia ’17, a biochemist from North Bergen, also won a first-place TechQuest prize in the category for first-time contestants for their work on a portable microbial fuel cell-powered lighting system.  The research team has also won seed funding from NJIT’s Undergraduate Research and Innovation program to apply that technology to light mobile toilets by harnessing energy from the human waste generated inside them.

Diego Rios ’18, a math and physics major from Bloomfield won second place at TechQuest for his trans-palpebral self-tonometer, a device for monitoring and diagnosing glaucoma.  Matthew Reda ’19, a mechanical engineer from Pequannock, and Kevin O’Connor ’18, a civil engineer from Pequannock took third place for their autonomous snow-removal device. 

In opening remarks, NJIT President Joel Bloom applauded the applications-focused students for homing in on two key elements of successful inventions, which are to “know what the need is and to know what the marketplace is.”

“Each one targets an important problem in diverse areas, from nanomedicine, to energy storage to the expansion of our democracy through social networking,” Atam Dhawan, NJIT’s vice provost for research, noted before the event.

Innovation Day assembles the university’s key undergraduate research and innovation programs and competitions. These contests and programs are designed to help students become researchers and innovators with the know-how, technical savvy and experience to identify and address important unmet societal needs. Broadly, this year’s event featured inventions that improve lives, novel business ideas, computer games, and fundamental scientific research.

“Bringing all of these groups together in one room creates huge synergies, inspires exchanges and generates much excitement around innovation,” noted Jim Stevenson, a retired Honeywell fellow and founder of Stevenson PolyTech LLC. Stevenson and his wife, Steffi, sponsor TechQuest, providing prizes for contest winners and finalists who choose to continue their research over the summer. Stevenson concluded, “TechQuest encourages undergraduate students to channel their creative ideas toward real world marketplace and social needs.”  

“One of your milestone experiences is participating in events like this,” Provost Fadi Deek told the crowd.

The programs included in Innovation Day include:

TechQuest, an undergraduate invention competition sponsored by James Stevenson, a retired Honeywell scientist and consultant at Stevenson PolyTech LLC.

The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which helps students compete for awards for their research presentations and enroll in graduate programs.

The Undergraduate Research and Innovation Program, which enables students to become researchers and to select projects that will address societal problems, enhance our quality of life, and contend with global challenges.

The Student Innovation Acceleration Club, which gives students the forum to develop business concepts utilizing a lean start-up methodology.

The Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge, a collaboration between NJIT and Capital One Bank, which aims to ignite business development in Newark by empowering budding entrepreneurs.

The NSF I-Corps Sites Program, which provides specialized training and mini-grants of up to $3,000 to teams interested in exploring the commercial viability of their ideas for products and businesses that are based on their own inventions, University intellectual property, or any STEM-related technology.

Tracey Regan