Two teams take top Conrad honors for innovation

The Frack Boys, one of NCSSM’s two top winners at the 2015 Conrad Innovation Challenge. Photo by Jacob Sebastian ’15

The Frack Boys, one of NCSSM’s two top winners at the 2015 Conrad Innovation Challenge. Photo by Jacob Sebastian ’15.

Two NCSSM teams have won top honors in their categories for the 2015 Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. The annual competition challenges teams of high school students to combine innovation and entrepreneurship along with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) expertise, to create commercially viable products that can benefit humanity and support global sustainability.

The Conrad Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to transforming the current methods of teaching STEM in high schools.

NCSSM teams took home prizes in two out of five categories in the competition. In the Energy and Environment category, Frack Boys took the top spot and were named Pete Conrad Scholars for AquaVerum, the team’s solution to the contamination of groundwater caused by hydraulic fracturing — a timely issue for North Carolina and the United States. AquaVerum provides an additional layer of protection for groundwater by removing contaminants and making water safe for public use.

“Conrad is… different, as competitions go,” says Kunal Lodaya ‘15, a Frack Boys team member. “The instructions you get, at least to start, are pretty much as vague as it gets: Find a problem – any problem – and solve it. And honestly, the solution isn’t the hard part, relatively speaking. Coming up with a problem that exists, that’s relevant, that people care about, and that you, five guys in high school, can solve? That’s the real challenge.”

In Aerospace and Aviation, team PeriPump earned recognition as the Power Pitch winner for its novel approach to fluid management in zero-gravity environments in order to maximize efficiency. The Peripump allows for safe and reliable fluid control, and, with no moving parts, is not prone to breakage.

Four other student teams from NCSSM were also named as finalists in the competition, earning NCSSM teams finalist places in all six categories, including cyber-technology and security, energy and environment, health and nutrition, and a 2015 special category, “Giant Leap to Mars.”

NCSSM’s six teams were among the 25 finalist teams, selected from more than 300 entries, competing in the final round of the 2015 Spirit of Innovation Challenge. The teams presented their concepts to a panel of industry experts, leading entrepreneurs, government officials and world-renowned scientists at the Innovation Summit at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early April. Judges evaluated for the products for commercial viability, scientific soundness, and potential to support global sustainability. The winning team in each category received an innovation grant of $10,000 to continue product development.

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but if Conrad taught me anything, it’s that to every problem, there’s a solution, if you’re determined enough,” says Lodaya. “And sometimes, you’ll get medals for that solution. Most of the time, you won’t; but that doesn’t make your solution any less meaningful.”

Share this post.