A team of engineering students from the University of Maryland’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) has been selected as one of six undergraduate team finalists in the 2017 Collegiate Inventors Competition for their invention of “Stretchable Silicon Photovoltaics.”
The UMD team, and their invention of thin, flexible solar cells designed to open up “a new era of wearable and renewable power generation,” will compete against teams from Johns Hopkins University, Stevens Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech and the University of Iowa in the finals at this year’s competition, held from November 1-3 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia. Gold, silver and bronze prizes of up to $10,000 will be awarded to support patenting of the top three inventions.
Hundreds of students from across the country apply each year for the Collegiate Inventors Competition, which targets college-level inventors and encourages entrepreneurship. The competition was founded by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and is sponsored by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Sabrina Curtis, a MSE master’s student in a 5 year combined B.S./M.S. degree program, originated the idea for the UMD team’s invention, drawing on her research in stretchable electronics at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, combined with her UMD materials science and engineering specialization in "materials for energy.”
“The average U.S. soldier carries about 16 pounds of batteries while in the field," said Curtis. "Our group at the Army is interested in developing stretchable power devices for wearable electronics. Our [UMD team] Stretchable Photovoltaics are a way to enable renewable wearable power, which would allow convenient charging of smart electronics directly from your clothes.”
Curtis then pitched her idea as the focus for an Advanced Micro-fabrication course taught by MSE Professor Gary Rubloff during the fall 2016 semester. Curtis and classmates Alex Randolph, Haotian Wang, Maria Pascal, Julia Downing and Joseph Ayoub developed an initial prototype.
The project’s initial success allowed for its continuation as a 2017 Capstone Senior Design project offered by MSE Professor and Chair, Raymond Phaneuf. Further development during that project led to the team’s acceptance into the Collegiate Inventors Competition.
A total of nine UMD students have worked on the invention, including the four “co-inventors, Curtis, Randolph, Anfinrud and Wang, who made the “direct intellectual contributions” to the intellectual property (IP) rights of the invention. These four co-inventors, who received their bachelor’s degrees in May 2017, form UMD’s team for the Collegiate Inventors Competition. Teams of students who enter the competition as undergraduates or within one year of graduation are placed in the Undergraduate Competition category
“I’d like to also thank [staff] John Abrahams, John Hummel, Tom Loughrah and Mark Lecates of the UMD Nanocenter without whom this project would not have been possible,” Curtis said.