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Ice-fishing net, automated polymer pellet separation system take top honors in student invention competition

Schoofs Prize for Creativity and Tong Prototype Prize

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, first place — Ice Net X (large image)

Tong Prototype Prize

2004 Tong Prototype Prize, first place — Polymer Pellet Separation via Density (large image)

As soon as the lakes freeze, legions of hardy fishermen drop lines through small holes in the ice. While some of them pursue little panfish, others look for more sizeable fish such as walleye and northern at the end of their lines. Once those heavier, stronger fish are hooked, however, there's not a good way to hoist them through the ice without cutting the line or injuring the fish, says engineering mechanics senior Nicholas Passint.

So he and classmates Bryan Wilson and Joe Cessna designed the Ice Net X, which folds up almost umbrella-style to fit through the hole in the ice. Once the net is in the water, they open it and lodge it against the underside of the ice, trapping the fish. Then they close the net and draw it — and the fish — through the hole.

The invention won top honors and $10,000 in the Schoofs Prize for Creativity, an annual innovation competition held on the UW-Madison campus. Ice Net X, which also took third place and $700 in the Tong Prototype Prize competition, could be used for warm-weather fishing because of its streamlined size, says Passint.

While his group pondered their winter woes, chemical and biological engineering student Aaron Wallander spent parts of two summer internships separating more than 400 pounds of different polymer pellets with a tweezers. "You sit there and you pick them apart long enough and you think of stuff," he says. "But the idea didn't come to me then — otherwise I wouldn't have been doing it all summer."

Companies need to separate different types of polymer pellets — the middle step in plastics manufacturing — for quality control or to test new machinery. And Wallander couldn't believe there wasn't an automated way to do it. His system flows the pellets from a hopper into a fluid-filled tank. Pellets lighter than the fluid float and flow into an adjacent tank, while pellets heavier than the fluid sink and remain in the initial tank. The invention and prototype won first place and $2,500 in the Tong Prototype Prize competition.

Schoofs Prize for Creativity

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, second place — Ice Light (large image)

Schoofs Prize for Creativity

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, third place — Infinitely Variable Chain-Driven Transmission (large image)

Schoofs Prize for Creativity

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, fourth place (tie) — Air-Tuner Drum System (large image)

Schoofs Prize for Creativity 2004

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, fourth place (tie) — Barrel Tattoo Machine (large image)

Schoofs Prize for Creativity

2004 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, fourth place (tie) — Laptop EZ Store (large image)

Schoofs Prize for Creativity 2004

Schoofs Prize for Creativity, best presentation award — S-BMX Conversion Kit (large image)

The winners were chosen from a field of 22 ideas and inventions, including a portable computer-aided drug dispensing system, a method of storing liquid hydrogen in hybrid-electric vehicles, and a radio-frequency system for finding lost disc-golf discs, exhibited and displayed during Innovation Days, held Feb. 12 and 13 on the College of Engineering campus.

Judge David Smukowski, an alumnus with degrees in civil and environmental engineering, encouraged the contestants to pursue their passions regardless of whether they won or not. "I think you're all destined for success," he said.

Two students whose invention didn't receive an award plan to take Smukowski's advice. Their Cello Talon, which attaches to the endpiece of a cello and keeps the instrument firmly in one place, was easy to fabricate, said electrical and computer engineering student and cellist Daniel Springmann. "This is a part that we can sell out of our dorm room, so I think we're going to start making these and talk to some distributors," says his partner, John Weyers, a business student.

Entering a prototype in the competition was optional, but nearly every team built and demonstrated its idea. For some, the experience of constructing what they'd designed played a key role in its final incarnation. "When I did build the desk, things I had over-thought in the design phase were replaced by more obvious solutions," says engineering mechanics student Trenton Kirchderfer of his solid-wood portable modular desk, the Flexi-Desk, which earned second place in the Tong competition.

Similarly, mechanical engineering seniors Mike Casper and Anthony Nichol say building their second-place Schoofs design, the Ice Light, ultimately saved them a lot of time. "We originally thought we had to lay tiny fiber-optic strands in a horizontal manner using epoxy and metal for our light-passage medium," says Casper. "When researching materials for our prototype, though, we found a company that makes this part (a linear light) and it saved us tons of time. It also made our idea more viable if it went to a full-scale product."

The competitions are sponsored by the UW Technology Enterprise Cooperative. The Schoofs Prize is funded by Richard J. Schoofs, who received a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering in 1953 from UW-Madison. The Tong Prototype Prizes and grants are sponsored by the Tong Family Foundation, including COE alumnus Peter P. Tong, who received his master of science degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1965.

Other winners include:

Schoofs Prize for Creativity


  • Second place and $7,000 — "Ice Light," a replaceable edge-lighted film that creates illuminated images such as logos or advertising within ice sheets in ice arenas. The images are easy to turn on and off. Invented by mechanical engineering students Mike Casper and Anthony Nichol.
  • Third place and $4,000 — "Infinitely Variable Chain-Driven Transmission," a system that uses moveable sprockets, rather than the standard derailleur, to provide an infinite number of drive ratios for bicycle riders, making a more user-friendly, robust shifting system. Invented by mechanical engineering student Jason Zuleger.
  • Fourth place and $1,000 (tie) — "Air-Tuner Drum System," a pneumatically driven device for tuning drums quickly and accurately. Invented by mechanical engineering student Joshua Lohr.
  • Fourth place and $1,000 (tie) — "Laptop EZ Store," a removable desk- mounted laptop support that doubles as a space-efficient storage device. Invented by business student Peter Norenberg and mechanical engineering student Grant McNeilly.
  • Fourth place and $1,000 (tie) — "Barrel Tattoo Machine," an improved, battery-operated tattoo machine that is easier for artists to handle. Invented by mechanical engineering student Andrew Lawson.
  • Best presentation and $1,000 — "S-BMX Conversion Kit," a conversion kit that quickly transforms BMX-style bicycles into downhill skiing machines for the extreme sport ski-biking. Invented by engineering mechanics and astronautics students Eric Schroeder, Mike Guthrie, Aaron "Sonny" Nimityongskul and Luke Henke.

Tong Prototype Prize


  • Second place and $1,250 — "Flexi-Desk," an adjustable, portable computer desk. Invented by engineering mechanics and astronautics student Trenton Kirchdoerfer.
  • Third place and $700 — "Ice Net X," a novel tool for landing large fish while ice fishing. Invented by engineering mechanics and astronautics students Nick Passint, Joe Cessna and Bryan Wilson.