Imperial students develop low-cost technology solutions to build a better world | Imperial News

Pupils participating in the 2018 Make a Difference competition.

Five teams of undergraduate students had the opportunity to develop powerful new technologies in Imperial Laboratories this summer.

The Science Department’s Make A Difference Competition (FoNS-MAD), open to all students across the college, gives students the resources to create cost-effective technologies that make a positive impact on society.

The finalists of this year’s competition took part in an 8-week funded laboratory internship over the summer months, during which they had the opportunity to develop their ideas through to the proof-of-concept stage – the point at which an idea is demonstrated viable.

This year’s shortlist includes ideas ranging from a new way to make SPF moisturizers to efforts to prevent fungal pathogens from destroying plants.

The teams will provide a detailed summary of their findings and present their projects to a VIP panel of experts at the closing event on 26 October, where the winners will receive a £7,000 prize.

If you would like to attend the event, which is open to everyone, you can register here.

Read more about this year’s finalists below:

recognize food toxins

Norovirus CGI image.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Team AFLT – Edward Wu (Bioengineering), Zhanqing Hua (Life Sciences) and Yiming Huang (Life Sciences) – are developing a flow-through test that will allow people to rapidly detect norovirus in food.

Edward Wu explained that the original idea for the project was to test for aflatoxins – a family of toxins produced by fungi – but this idea was changed due to the risks involved in working with the toxins in a laboratory setting are.

The team decided to test for norovirus instead, which is safer and easier to acquire, to help people control outbreaks of the virus more quickly.

Yiming Huang said: “We want to use this project to make the world a better place in a simple way – but we really want to improve the technology for use in the real world. We can use this competition to give us the opportunity to develop these test kits to better test for food toxins or viruses that can show up in food.”

Turn food waste into moisturizer

The EcoFlav team — Wangxing Guo (Life Sciences), Liangxun Tan (Life Sciences), and Bhavi Kevat (Life Sciences) — uses compounds called flavonoids to create SPF moisturizers that can protect against UV light.

“We found that the current products on the market use certain ingredients that aren’t very good for your body… We wanted to create something different for people to use.” Bhavi Kevat Member of the EcoFlav team

Team members take food waste, particularly wasted fruits and vegetables, and use it to extract flavonoids for use in their product.

One benefit of using flavonoids for such moisturizers is that the compounds can protect longer than traditional SPF moisturizers.

Wangxing Guo said the idea came from a lab internship in his class that discussed the UV protection properties of the compounds, which are typically used for agricultural work. He wondered if these properties could be transferred to human skin.

Bhavi Kevat explained: “We have found that the current products on the market use certain ingredients that are not very good for your body. They have certain side effects, such as B. endocrine disruptors when used over a long period of time. We wanted to create something different that people could use.”

stop fungal pathogens

Image of wheat leaf rust (Puccinia triticina) - a fungal disease of wheat.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Team Rust in Peace/Sporadicate – Jay Montgomery-Johnson (Physics), Shirin Bamezai (Bioengineering), Marc Amil (Life Sciences) and Fontaine Gibbs (Life Sciences) – are making a biofungicide that targets fungal pathogens when they land on a plant .

The team explained that around 20 percent of the yield of staple crops around the world is lost each year due to fungal diseases – although a problem with this is that sprays are often used when a crop is showing symptoms, when it is too late to deal with it stop the disease.

Instead, Rust in Peace tries to use spores, which are dormant on the plant and can be triggered to germinate and attack the pathogens when they land on the plants.

Shirin Bamezai said: “We thought, can we develop a solution that recognizes the fungal pathogen and reacts to it at the same time? So that we can eliminate it when it is most vulnerable.

“Our project is essentially trying to tune this spore system to a biomarker that works for all fungal pathogens, so that we turn the spores into cells exactly when a fungal pathogen lands on the plant.”

microplastics in wastewater

Team PolyTraps—Yunxiao [Betty] Wang (Life Sciences), Angel Xia (Life Sciences), Hussein Jodiyawalla (Life Sciences) and Minjoon Seo (Life Sciences) – manufacture enzyme-based beads for wastewater treatment, made from natural products recycled from the food industry.

“[The competition] is very different than research at university because you have to think about other aspects of your research such as Betty Wang Member of the PolyTraps team

The technology aims to solve the problem of microplastics in wastewater to protect human health and the health of the entire ecosystem.

Betty Wang said, “The competition is exciting because you get the opportunity to work with people and communicate with other teams to learn about new ideas and bring your ideas to fruition.

“It’s very different from doing research in academia because you have to think about other aspects of your research, like B. the industry, how to get a patent and how to present your ideas to the public and investors.”

The team is currently considering filing a patent for their technology.

Connecting strangers in need

Floods in Chongqing, China, in the summer of 2020.
The project was inspired by efforts to help people during last summer’s severe flooding in China, Image Credit: Shutterstock

Team JAY – Jiaxin Liu (Physics), Avighna Jha (Physics), Yuan Gao (Physics) and Jiawei Yan (Electrical and Electronics) – are working on mobile software that will help connect strangers in need.

The team created a platform that connects people when they are in need, either in everyday situations or in an emergency, by allowing them to ask for help through the app by submitting a help request. This allows users who are nearby to offer help based on the information provided in the post.

The idea was inspired by efforts to help people trapped by severe flooding in China last summer.

Yuan Gao explained, “The situation was very chaotic, so they had to use online volunteers to help people organize the information and send it to the police and other officials. We found this process to be very time consuming.

“Then we came up with the idea that if we had a platform to handle people’s requests, the whole rescue process would be easier and more efficient.”


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