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Dartmouth Student Team Wins 2nd Prize in 2010 Collegiate Inventors Competition

Mar 04, 2011

CONTACT: Catharine Lamm

The Collegiate Inventors Competition announced this week that Dartmouth students Devon Anderson, Jonathan Guerrette, and Nathan Niparko were the second-place, $5,000 prize winners in the undergraduate category for their creation of an absorbent, bioresorbable surgical sponge.

"They earned a second place finish out of a large number of entries from over two hundred universities in the US," says Doug Van Citters, Assistant Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth and one of the team's faculty advisors. "I'm quite proud of the team, and this is a testament to the systems-based, out-of-the-box problem solving technique we teach at Thayer School."

Sometimes during surgeries, sponges that have been inserted to keep the surgical site clear of fluids are forgotten and left in the patient's body, leading to infections and other complications.

bioresorbable surgical sponge
A close-up of the bioresorbable surgical sponge

Anderson, Guerrette, and Niparko designed a new kind of absorbent sponge using a novel combination of materials, including cellulose and alginate, and a novel fabrication method involving electrospinning. If accidentally left in a patient's body, the sponge can break down into harmless substances that can be absorbed by the body.

The three team members graduated in 2010 from Dartmouth with degrees in engineering sciences, and the project was part of a capstone two-term engineering design sequence done through Thayer School's Cook Engineering Design Center (CEDC).

Anderson, 23, is working at a Veteran's Administration hospital where he is able to continue research on the bioresorbable sponge. A graduate of Carson High School in Carson City, NV in 2005, he has aspired to be a surgeon from the time he was young, and after spending a year on his current research, plans to enter an MD/PhD program. Through his study of biomedical engineering, Anderson has discovered that surgeons use many devices and techniques that would be inaccessible without engineering development and innovation.

Guerrette, also 23, is in Thayer School's M.S. program while he continues to conduct part-time research on the project with Anderson. He grew up in Wells, Maine and was a 2005 graduate of Berwick Academy. Before attending Dartmouth, he spent three years at Colby College where he received a B.A. in chemistry and physics in 2009. With his work on the bioresorbable sponge, Guerrette is hoping to drastically reduce the amount of complications that arise for patients when a sponge is left behind.

After graduating from Dartmouth, Niparko went to work as a private equity analyst for Audax Group. He is a 2005 graduate of Gilman School in Baltimore.

The Dartmouth team
l to r: Jonathan Guerrette, Nathan Niparko, and Devon Anderson received the Corporate Collaboration Council Engineering Design Prize at Thayer School's 2010 Investiture ceremony.

The Competition, sponsored by the Abbott Fund, the non-profit foundation of the global health care company Abbott, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), announced the winners Wednesday morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C

Dr. Don Keck, a Competition judge and an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame for optical fiber, said, "We are very impressed with the quality of work and ingenuity shown—all of these students are winners. More importantly, all of humanity benefits from the breakthrough work in which these students are engaged. We hope this will encourage more college students to celebrate invention as part of their science and technology endeavors. Further, the Competition is a wonderful example of government agencies, non-profit, and industry coming together to encourage and inspire future generations of innovators."

Experts from industry, government, and academic research initially judged student entries on the originality of the idea and the potential value and usefulness to society. On October 26th, five undergraduate finalists presented their inventions to a panel of judges, and five graduate finalists also made presentations to a judging panel. Both panels were comprised of inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and representatives from the USPTO, Abbott, the NIH and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

"The Collegiate Inventors Competition provides an important opportunity to honor today's most promising young inventors and scientists, and to highlight the importance of innovation in our daily lives," said Dale Kempf, Distinguished Research Fellow, Global Pharmaceutical Research and Development, Abbott. "At Abbott, our business is focused on scientific discovery. Supporting the Competition is part of our broader effort to help inspire today's science and engineering students—who may go on to help us discover tomorrow's breakthrough medicines and medical devices."

"It is a great privilege for me to join in honoring this year's winners of the Collegiate Inventors Competition," David Kappos Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property commented. "They are not only bright innovators but embody the spirit of entrepreneurship, which has always fueled our economy and created jobs. At this critical time for our nation, this year's winners strengthen our belief that America's best days lie ahead."

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