Students highlight innovation at showcase

November 22, 2019

Innovation is important in all fields studied at Brandeis, including both STEM and humanities, according to Associate Provost for Innovation Rebecca Menapace at the Fifth Annual Innovation Showcase in the Shapiro Science Center on Thursday. Brandeis Innovation held the event to show off the projects students had been working on to students, faculty and alumni, according to Menapace. 

Menapace said that she hopes students will get excited about innovation and get involved—if they have ideas or solutions to problems in the world around them, they should apply for a grant, or they might apply to help with someone else’s problem,” she said. “Innovation is part of Brandeis.” 

Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld donated money to Brandeis University for the purpose of establishing a center for innovation at the university five years ago, according to Menapace.

The Brandeis Hoot spoke to several of the students present about the projects they were presenting.

Leanna Silverberg M.A. ’19 presented a project focused on speeding up the process of drug discovery using cryo-electron microscopy. The planned new technology focuses on a new “plug-and-play” cryo-chip technology, which can be inserted into existing cryo-electron microscopes to increase efficiency, according to Silverberg. She compared current drug discovery techniques to attempting to find the right key for a lock in the dark—eventually the right key will be found, but it will take time. Silverberg also compared the new technology to turning on the light and making the lock and key visible. The biggest challenge for the project was getting people to realize its value while it was still in its research phase, according to Silverberg. 

Artdeansyah Dilaga M.A. ’20 showed off a project to create solar powered irrigation for farmers in Somaliland. The goal of the project is to transition from diesel, which is more expensive and harmful to the environment, to solar power, which is cheaper and cleaner, according to Dilaga. The system collects energy to pump water up from the ground. Dilaga talked about the project’s payment plan, which was based around using mobile payments over the course of three years. Currently, a single system is capable of covering three farms, but Dilaga hopes to increase efficiency until three systems can cover 30 farms. He said that the largest challenge the project faces is getting the word out to farmers.

Michael Pepi, a fourth-year graduate student, spoke about a project he was working on to combat drug resistant tuberculosis. When interviewed by The Brandeis Hoot, he said that while tuberculosis is a curable disease, some strains are becoming increasingly resistant to current drugs designed to treat it. Pepi said that the project was important to him because it involved improving lives. “Science has a lot of cool fields,” he said, but for him, the most important purpose of science is to help people.

In addition to the students presenting their projects, several organizations and companies aimed at entrepreneurs and startups were also present at the event.

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