John and Joan Harrisons of today

26 Aug 2016

Written by Nasreen Uddin

Nasreen is research intern for the Longitude Prize.

After an open call launched on 16 May at the Science Museum, today our Discovery Awards close at midnight. This seed funding will help teams who need additional support to progress their ideas to a stage where they feel ready to enter the Longitude Prize.

We recognise that good ideas to solve great problems can come from anywhere. Much like carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison solved the original Longitude Prize of his time by finding a way to determine a ship’s location at sea, we now look at some of the current John and Joan Harrisons using creativity and innovation to solve some of the biggest challenges we face today.

Angela Zhang, US

Angela’s compelling desire to get involved in science research lead her to cold call university professors at the age of 14. She wished to make cancer treatment more personalised by improving treatment efficacy and patients’ quality of life. Now an undergraduate student at Harvard University, she completed most of her research while at school. She discovered a cancer detecting nanoparticle that not only binds to biomarkers present on cancer cells, but that can tell doctors through MRI imaging which cells have become cancerous. Angela’s ingenious solution to transform cancer treatment was awarded the Intel International Science and Engineering Award at 16 and has also won the Siemens competition in Maths, Science and Technology. Outside of research she founded Labs on Wheels, a charity that collects lab equipment from universities and biotech companies and donates it to schools.

Cara O’Sullivan, UK

Cara’s interest in mobility rehabilitation sparked during an internship at a medical engineering charity, and as she watched the financial impact of her grandfather’s transition to different walking aids. This inspired the product designer to invent the Evolvable Walking Aid Kit, a set of parts that can be assembled to build different types of walking aids. This saves people from buying a new walking aid as their mobility condition changes. The practical design also addresses the problem of accessing walking aids in developing countries, as it can be manufactured locally using inexpensive materials. Cara’s modular design won the MedTech prize and the Inclusive Technology Special Recognition Award from Nesta.

Alexander Enoch, UK

Alexander wanted to bridge the gap between smart toys designed to get kids involved in STEM and real robots. While working on his robotics Ph.D. he created Marty the Robot, an interactive teaching robot toy that can be built and programmed by the user, inspiring them to get stuck into programming and robotics. Marty’s unique spring leg design allows him to not only walk but even dance and play football. The customisable robot is easy to build by students and all the parts can be 3D printed. Marty has been awarded a range of prizes for its innovative concept to improve school education, including the EU Robotics Forum Entrepreneurship Award and Scottish Edge Award.

Miguel Luengo, Spain

How can we involve the general public to help accelerate malaria diagnosis? Miguel, a data scientist and biomedical researcher, identified a gap between games and crowdsourcing for medical image diagnosis. This inspired him to launch Malariaspot, a computer and mobile game to help fight malaria. Players worldwide find hidden parasites in real blood images, and their combined results match the work of a specialist in counting parasites. This makes malaria diagnosis more accessible and affordable for real patients around the world. Michael’s idea won the Best Social Innovation Award by MIT Technology Review and he has also launched Tuberspot, focussed on TB diagnosis.

Lucas Strasburg, Brazil

Lucas’ uncle needed an affordable orthopaedic prosthetic with ergonomic design and absorbable impact. Lucas applied mechanical engineering to the biomechanics of human walking to develop RevoFoot, a low-cost, orthopaedic prosthetic developed from recycled plastic. RevoFoot is similar to the human foot in that it responds anatomically, providing a more ergonomic solution with a low cost. As well as transforming the lives of those unable to afford prosthetics, recycling plastic materials reduces pollution and landfill and is a source of income for many families. Lucas’s innovation in prosthetic development has received Intel International Science and Engineering Award and the Innovators under 35 Award in 2014.

Tom Baden, Germany/UK

Tom wanted to support African research, which struggles with poor funding. He set up the NGO TReND in Africa to promote investment in higher education and raise the educational standard of African universities. Run by volunteer scientists, the charity teaches local researchers to produce their own lab equipment and diagnostic tools using 3D printing. TReND aims to increase policy makers’ awareness to create better science policies and boost funding to overcome global inequality in research and education. Tom’s work was awarded the Innovators under 35 Award in 2016.

Jeanette Hills, US

Jeanette set up Spot on Sciences to improve access to medical testing for elderly, rural and economically disadvantaged patients. A former lab manager whose mother faced difficulties giving blood samples, Jeanette also developed Spot on Sciences’ HemaSpot to revolutionise blood sampling methods. Anyone, anywhere, can use this affordable and safe-to-use device multiple times a day, eliminating the need for a specialist. The blood sample can then be shipped to diagnostic test centres for analysis. HemaSpot’s has resulted in grants from NIH, the Gates Foundation and innovation awards including Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.

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