“Get your genius on.”
That’s the tagline behind the Conrad Foundation’s annual Spirit of Innovation Challenge, which invites high-school students to use their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills to create real-world, commercially viable, technology-based products in one of three broad categories: Aerospace Exploration, Clean Energy, and Health and Nutrition.
This is no high school science fair. Forget testing the permeability of soil or comparing the effect of various liquids on plant growth. Instead, the Challenge gives teams of 2-5 students the chance to apply their brainpower to real-world problems, gaining valuable entrepreneurial experience along the way. Last year, a team of two sisters developed a nutrition bar that has since been used on a NASA space shuttle. In 2009, another team that created a motionless thermal generator to make electricity from the ocean floor went on to receive two patents for their technology.
All teams are matched with mentors — world-renowned scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs — to help them plan and execute their ideas.
The deadline to enter the contest is November 29, 2011, and there is no fee. For the general entry round, each team is required to complete a short, online abstract (found on the online submission portal) that includes team information and a short product description, and answers the following three questions: What problem does the product solve? How is it innovative? What are the key product features and how is it beneficial?
Selected semi-finalists will be asked to submit a full product proposal, and five finalists in each category will be invited to present their ideas at the 2012 Innovation Summit at the NASA-Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where they will vie for $5000 seed grants, patents and commercial opportunities. This year, three teams will also be invited to travel to Rio de Janeiro to participate in Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The Conrad Foundation was founded by Nancy Conrad, education activist, in memory of her late husband Pete Conrad, who was an astronaut, innovator, and entrepreneur. “The Conrad Foundation is dedicated to fundamentally shifting how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are taught in K-12 schools and across socioeconomic levels.”