Photo Credit Jan Garrison
12th annual elevator competition
February 26, 2020

Coating microplastics with a special ferrofluid to clean contaminated water was the winning pitch at the 12th annual “What’s Your Big Idea?” elevator competition at Culver Academies Sunday.

Senior Madeline Petrucelli (Plymouth, Ind.) pitched the business idea to judges during her three-minute presentation. Three minutes is the typical length of time of an office building elevator ride. The competition, which featured six presenters, is sponsored by The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur.

Petrucelli said a capsule containing the ferrofluid could be dropped in water, coating the microplastics and magnetizing them. A specialized magnet then could be used to clean the microplastics from the water.

Microplastics are contaminating soil and water, she said, and can now be found in fish. Using ferrofluids have proven to work. However, the concept has not been taken to the next step, which is real life applications like purifying water for drinking while camping.

Petrucelli’s effort was rewarded with a $1,000 Amazon gift card.

Taking second place was Lucas Casas ’22 (Telluride, Colo.) with “Life Radius.” The concept would provide commercial sailors and fishermen with silicone bracelets that emit a low-frequency signal. If they fall overboard, the AIS (automatic identification system) tracking device could find them.

The system would need United States Coast Guard approval, he added, and the frequency could be adjusted to go up to 30 feet deep and 50 yards away. The cost would be $100 for two wristbands, plus the cost of the tracking device. Similar systems now costs $600.

Casas received a $500 Amazon gift card.

Third place went to Xavier Harig ’21 (Deerfield, Ill.) for his “E-Z Utensils,” silverware designed for people with severe arthritis or who have lost fine motor movement in their hands, wrists, or arms. With a large grip and a 90-degree bend, Harig said the silverware allows people to feed themselves. He came up with the idea while volunteering at a home for veterans, he said.

While some silverware have larger grips, Harig said none have the vertical angle. The handles can also be equipped with a velcro strap for those people having trouble gripping the handle.

His third place presentation earned Harig a $100 Amazon gift card.

(From left): Perry Harig, Nhan Ton, Kevin Zhu, Lucas Cases, Dr. Michael Bushnell, Xavier Harig, Madeline Petrucelli, Melissa Contrucci, and Laura Campbell after the competition.

The three other presentations were:

  • True Flex by Perry Harig ’21 (Deerfield, Ill.): The concept is the expansion of the Health Savings Account and follows the same principle of portable pensions. The employee would select a health plan and receive special tax incentives. The plan would then follow the person from job to job.
  • Culver Course Review by Nhan Ton ’22 (Vung Tau City, Vietnam): A study guide for different subjects that would include helpful tips from people who have already taken the course. Tips may include how to study for tests. The online service/website would be free and could be replicated at other institutions.
  • Let Our Change Make a Change by Kevin Zhu ’22 (Chesterfield, Mo.): The service would round up receipts to the nearest dollar at local stores with the change going to different charities. Instead of being a sometime thing, it would be done all year and be available to any retail store. It would raise money for charity and also make it easier for people to donate and balance their bank account, he said.

The presenters were not allowed to use props. They could refer to notes on a 4×6-inch index card.

Serving as judges were Dr. Mike Bushnell ’68, co-founder and chief technical officer of Spectral Design and Test, Inc., and Laura Campell ’97 and Melissa Contrucci ’99, both from Centier Bank.

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