A Panoply of Inventions: Self-Cooling Tennis Shoes, Nifty Water Purifier Will Be Showcased During Pitt’s High School Innovative Design Competition

Issue Date: 
February 28, 2011

To high school students lamenting the supposed impracticality of secondary education, the University of Pittsburgh has some self-heating socks designed by their peers that might persuade otherwise. Or perhaps a backpack/water purifier that ensures a clean drink even while tromping through the wilderness.

Such feats of practicality and invention are the centerpiece of Pitt’s Sixth Annual High School Innovative Design Competition slated for 9 a.m. March 2 in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, 4141 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The event is open to the public.

Sponsored by Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), the competition concludes a yearlong Pitt program that trains area high school teachers and students to think like scientists and engineers by devising creative solutions to everyday problems. Thirty student teams from five area high schools will present their inventions, and the winning team will receive a paid internship in Pitt’s John A. Swanson Center for Product Realization. The students’ work will be judged by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University faculty members, as well as by representatives from local industries.

Amy Landis, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Swanson School, and Christian Schunn, an LRDC research scientist and professor of psychology, launched the program with a National Science Foundation grant and with support from the Quality of Life Technology Center, a collaborative project between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon. Landis and Schunn initiated the project with LRDC research associate Birdy Reynolds.

The most recent program began in spring 2010, when the Swanson School hosted an accelerated 12-week engineering course for eight science teachers from Wilkinsburg, North Catholic, Woodland Hills, and McKeesport high schools, as well as from Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Science and Technology Academy. The teachers enrolled in the Product Realization and Development course through the Swanson School’s John A. Swanson Center for Product Innovation, where they worked with an external client to solve a current research problem. These same teachers then spent four weeks in the summer at the LRDC translating their design experience into class lessons and projects for their students to work on in the fall.

Student designs draw from physics, chemistry, biology, and environmental science to address common needs. The 2011 competition includes such designs as:

•  athletic shoes cooled by an internal fluid pump;

•  an emergency water-purification kit that can clean at a rate of three gallons per minute; and

•  a reflective device for senior citizens with diabetes—who often experience inflexibility and a limited range of motion—that lets them examine all sides of their feet easily.

More information on the design program and competition is available on Pitt’s Web site, or by contacting LRDC project coordinator Kevin Topolski at 412-624-7469 or topolski@pitt.edu.