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ExploraVision Regional Fair Competition Winners



Region 1

Sebastian Theiler, Emily Schmidt, Vera Pankevich
Martian Mycrops: Transporting Perchlorate Reducing Bacteria via Fungal Mycelium to Efficiently Reduce Perchlorate Concentration in Martian Regolith

Agriculture on Mars is hindered by the presence of perchlorates in Martian regolith, which inhibit thyroid function in humans and are toxic to plants. Perchlorate-reducing bacteria can effectively reduce perchlorates into chloride and oxygen, which are not harmful. In order for such bacteria to be able to survive and transport itself through the arid Martian regolith, it needs a continuous liquid film. Such a film exists on hydrophilic fungal hyphae, and mycelial networks can be sufficiently hardy, drought-tolerant, densely packed, and able to survive in the presence of toxic metals, that they would make an ideal host organism for the facilitation of bacterial transport and thus perchlorate reduction.

Project website and paper.

Region 2

Teny Ravul, Erin Powers, Elizabeth Kam, Heba Ouerfelli, Cheryl Gibney & Paul Pires (Toshiba)
OptoLight: Vision for the Blind is in Sight

Retinal degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness, affecting millions worldwide. Often beginning after someone has been able to see for a lifetime, patients with retinal degeneration lose a pivotal facet of their life—vision. Long having had no known cure, the emergence of the field of optogenetics has opened a hopeful door to bringing vision back to the blind. Our team proposes the creation of a novel pair of glasses called OptoLight. To work, the retinas of patients will first be injected with a novel multi-effector viral vector before wearing the glasses. The glasses will be imbued with a state-of-the-art neuromorphic camera, detecting changes in intensity and color across mere pixels that will be projected into the retinas of wearers. Through this groundbreaking technology, OptoLight will bring sight and color back into the lives of millions.

Project website and paper.

Region 3

Nathan Woodside (Toshiba), William Drake, Thomas Frazelle, Maya Sheridan, Coen Figge, Lindis Chetwynd (Coach)
Photosynthesizing the Future

Artificial photosynthesis technology has the potential to revolutionize energy infrastructure in the United States and around the world with an efficient and carbon-neutral method of isolating methane, ethanol, and other hydrocarbons that can be used in the production of electricity, gasoline, plastic, fertilizer, and myriad other commodities. This research group proposes an apparatus for artificial photosynthesis, to be sold to citizens and corporations and installed at carbon-dioxide rich locations with access to light and water, synthesizing solar fuels for use in the world’s existing energy infrastructure from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Two coordinate chemical reactions first split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas with existing artificial leaf technology, and then recombine the hydrogen and carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons with a new catalyst. These technologies have been in the making for decades; the time will soon be upon us to implement artificial photosynthesis technology in energy infrastructure across the world.

Project website and paper.

Region 4

Back: Katelyn Xu, Avery Mai, Daphne Tu, Front: Rita Xu
Optic Nerve Assistance (ONA) Technology

Glaucoma, a disease that can lead to vision loss from damage to the optic nerve, is the second leading cause of blindness globally, and currently, no treatment can restore vision loss from glaucoma. Optic Nerve Assistance technology seeks to provide partial restoration of vision in patients by sending visual information around the damaged region of the optic nerve, allowing it to reach the brain. ONA technology aims to improve patients’ ease in performing daily activities one eye at a time.

Project website and paper.

Region 5

Dr. Elisa Rambo (mentor), Gabriel Gurt, Marlan Jha, Peter Fehrenbach (Toshiba)
CiliaBuilder: A Hair Prosthetic for Your Ears

Imagine hair extensions inside your ear! Hearing loss due to noise exposure is a common issue for billions of people. Although this form of hearing damage is preventable, around 60% of childhood hearing loss is due to noise. Hearing loss can be caused by a physical degradation of stereocilia inside the cochlear canal. Healthy stereocilia are able to move in response to sound waves initiating a signal that is received by the brain. When damaged, the stereocilia are shortened and unable to move properly. This project will present a solution to this problem. Using targeted protein binding, a cilia prosthetic will be docked onto the damaged stereocilia. The prosthetic will lengthen the damaged cilia restoring the proper movement potential and the cochlea’s ability to send signals to the brain.

Project website and paper.

Region 6

Bruce Engberg (Toshiba), Jace Baptista-Allan, Marcus Yeung, Daniel Soto Parra, James Johnston (Coach)
Trojan Horse

Cancer, the uncontrolled proliferation of malignant cells caused by genetic mutations, affects 1.8 million people in the United States annually. Current cancer treatments are imprecise and often ineffective in preventing cancer recurrence. Likewise, long treatment durations and adverse effects carried by such are strenuous on the body. Our solution is Trojan Horse, a membrane-bound container modified with a sperm flagellum and peripheral antibodies which allow it to infiltrate the cellular membrane and kill cancer from the inside. The liposome carries VEGF-targeted CRISPR Cas-9 gene-editing proteins and Cytochrome C, which are released inside cancer cells, inducing cell death. After the first injection, a second dose containing location-tracking chips is administered to monitor tumor location within the body through the transmission of electromagnetic signals via a nanochip to external machinery and scanners. Trojan Horse streamlines cancer treatment in reducing adverse side effects, maximizing efficiency, and utilizing a simple yet potent design.

Project website and paper.