by: Amie Parker

Lawrence Barrett at Innovation Idol

On Thursday, Oct.11, at the Leonardo, a museum specializing in scientific exploration and advancement, four contestants with creative and scientific minds gathered to compete in nanoUtah’s 2012 Innovation Idol session.

Lawrence Barrett from Brigham Young University (BYU) was crowned nanoUtah’s 2012 Innovation Idol after he presented his project featuring micro-filters.

In his winning presentation, Barrett explained how Robert C. Davis, associate professor of physics, and his team have developed micro-filters using a specialized method of fabrication. They are able to create filters with a precise shape and pore size.  In addition to being thin and robust, these filters can be used to filter liquids and gases in a variety of applications such as beverage production or air filtration for the mining industry.

“Competing in Innovation Idol has been a valuable and eye-opening experience,” Barrett said. “It has helped me experience the business side of technology instead of just the scientific development process.”

Barrett, an undergraduate student majoring in physics at BYU, captured the audiences’ votes against his competitors, York Smith, Harikrishnan Jayamohan, and Ben Rollins.

Smith, who has a Ph.D in metallurgical engineering from the University of Utah (U of U), presented the concept of using solar energy to convert carbon dioxide to fuel. This innovative process would take carbon dioxide from power plants and process them into liquid fuels using sunlight. The fuels then can be used in existing infrastructure for transportation, power generation, and domestic heating.

Jayamohan, a research assistant at the U of U, proposed an inexpensive device for detecting tuberculosis (TB). The proposed device would be capable of detecting TB via a breathalyzer device using a sensor material referred to as “titania nanotubular sensor.”

Rollins, the fourth competitor, is associated with Vaporsens, a spin-out company from the U of U officially incorporated in May of 2011.  The company has licensed the intellectual property from the University, based on the research of USTAR innovator Ling Zang. Rollins pitched that Vaporsens has developed a detector to help public safety officials “sniff” out explosives and narcotics using patented nanowires and electronics. The sensor has exceptional speed (milliseconds), sensitivity (parts per trillion), and selectivity (most explosives and illegal drugs).

The four contestants had eight minutes to pitch their idea, followed by a four-minute question and answer period with the panel of judges, concluding with a 10-minute question and answer session with the audience. Audience members then selected the winner by casting their votes – in the form of “Leo Lira” –  for their favorite candidate. Along with the title of “Innovation Idol” Barrett and his lab also won a $500 prize.

NanoUtah 2012 conference was Utah’s eighth annual nanotechnology conference. The conference featured presentations from international and local leaders in nanoscience and nanotechnology. The conference fosters collaborations and the exchange of knowledge among scientists, engineers, clinicians, industry leaders, and students.