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Harlem Students Set to Pitch Inventions to Leaders in Biotech Industry

By Dartunorro Clark | August 25, 2016 7:24am
 High school students create some unique devices aimed at solving a problem in the world through a Columbia University engineering school program.
High school students create some unique devices aimed at solving a problem in the world through a Columbia University engineering school program.
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Columbia University

HARLEM — Local high school students will pitch their biggest and brightest biotech ideas to industry leaders Thursday in hopes their inventions move on to make a difference around the world.

Roughly two dozen juniors and seniors from schools across the city have just completed a six-week program, offered by a partnership between Columbia University's engineering school and Harlem Biospace, where they worked in teams to create gadgets aimed at solving problems or filling gaps in the biomedical field. 

The program, called Hypothekids, which is in its third year, is meant to boost interest in STEM fields among underserved communities. Many of its alums have gone on to attend Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities, according to Christine Kovich, who helps run the program and is also co-founder of Harlem BioSpace, a biotech incubator.

“We want to make sure we have a biotech pipeline that reflects the diversity of the city,” Kovich said.

Many of the students live in Harlem and/or attend Harlem schools, including 17-year-old Michael Stone, a senior at Frederick Douglass Academy who is creating a portable pollution detector.

His prototype is able to identify pollutants in the air by detecting the unique light reflected off certain particles, and then alerting users. He's hoping to create a device that's more affordable and efficient than the ones already on the market, Stone said.

Brooklyn Technical High School senior Helal Chowdhury, 17, and his two partners, Sandra Li, 17, and Ian Cruz, 16, both students at Columbia Secondary School, created a mouth guard that doubles as a thermometer for football players.

The mouth guard would track the body temperature of each player on a team and also transmit the data wirelessly to a central app for trainers and coaches to monitor when a player hits a temperature just above 100 degrees.  

“We saw that football was the sport with the highest rate of heat stress,” he said.  “And young players’ bodies are more susceptible."

Other projects include a germ-killing ultraviolet light and pump that can be attached to the ceramic filtration systems in Sub-Saharan Africa to make water filtration easier there.

The students will pitch their prototypes at Columbia University on Thursday to a panel including Dawn Barber, co-founder of NY Tech Meetup; Synaptic Labs Co-founder Matthew Owens; Jennifer Shaw, chief of staff of the Center for Economic Transformation (NYCEDC); and Cyndi Stivers, senior advisor at Acumen.

“We have a lot of self-starters, that’s something I really appreciate,” said Aaron Kyle, a lecturer in biomedical engineering at Columbia University who helps run the program.

“The biggest problem was underestimating what people could do. I don’t underestimate anymore,” he continued. “I shoot for the clouds and if we hit some stars we’ll be good.”