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Improved Solar Energy System Wins Top Honor in Annual Student Contest

A proposal for an improved solar energy system made a UW-Madison freshman $10,000 richer Thursday afternoon.

Mete Kural, an electrical engineering major from Turkey, was the winner of UW-Madison's fifth annual invention contest, BRAINSTORM: The Schoofs Prize for Creativity. Made possible by the generous contribution of College of Engineering alumnus Richard J. Schoofs, BRAINSTORM awards cash prizes each year to undergraduates whose inventions are judged most creative, novel, innovative, patentable and likely to succeed in the marketplace.

The contest is sponsored by the UW Technology Enterprise Cooperative, with support from the College of Engineering and School of Business.

Kural's entry was titled "Concentrating Solar Photovoltaic System Using Plastic-Injection Molded Spectrum-Splitting Concentrator." Photovoltaic cells absorb radiant energy, which can then be used to provide electricity for lighting, refrigeration and other household and business needs.

Kural said his proposal will significantly reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of this type of energy system. Rural regions, to which it is expensive to extend the power grid, would be one area that could benefit from his system.

Snap-In Joist invention

Jake Myre displays his Snap-In Joist Stiffener, which took second place in the The Schoofs Prize for Creativity. (large image)

The $7,000 second place award went to Jake Myre, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, for his invention, "Snap-In Joist Stiffener." The device is essentially two "hinged" pieces of galvanized steel with teeth on each end. The teeth sink into the ends of the facing sides of ceiling joists. By pushing up on the device, it locks in place. The advantage of this system over tradition joist stiffeners is that it can be put in place at any time, not just when the house is being built, said Myre. Because it does not need to be connected by any hardware, he added, it would be less expensive to install.

Third Place ($4,000) went to Eric Wobig, a senior in mechanical engineering, for his invention "Air Lift." In simplest terms, the device is two metal plates sandwiching an inflatable bladder and placed in the seat of a wheel chair. Through a control on the wheelchair's arm, the user can inflate the bladder to gain an additional six inches for such activities as reaching a can on a shelf.

Dean test oven range

Dean John G. Bollinger tests a prototype of the Safety Range, invented by Jeffrey Schwai (left) and Erik Burgardt. (large image)

There was a two-way tie for fourth prize, with each entry receiving $1,000: Dorene Kent (senior, chemical engineering) for her hollow shoe heel, which can store personal items such as lipstick and keys, and Jeffrey Schwai (junior, mechanical engineering) and Erik Burgardt (senior, industrial engineering) for their kitchen safety range, which reduces the risk of fire by only allowing burners to operate when they have a pot on them.

Other entries in this year's competition included:


  • A device that drops sand in front of tires, improving the vehicle's traction. (inventor Timin Musallam)


  • A human-powered seaweed cutting and retrieval apparatus. (inventor Justin Rohde)


  • The Pocket Memory Card: A device for carrying electronic cash and coupons. (inventor David Overbo)


  • A pressure washer power jet pump with a high flow rate and low-to-moderate pumping head capabilities (inventor Clayton Shakal)

Two entries received $2,500 Aschenbrenner Awards for having the best prototypes. They were:


  • Eric Wobig for the "Air Lift."


  • Brian Gill (senior, computer science), Wesley Gill (junior, mechanical engineering) and Nathaniel Sellin (senior, electrical engineering) for an electronic detection process that ensures restaurant employees are washing their hands at work.