Feature

The Spirit of Pete Conrad Lives on at Innovation Summit
03.29.10
 
Student team competing in the Conrad Innovation Summit. The student team from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif. Front (left to right): Niveditha Jayasekar, Hung-jen Wu, Japheth Wong. Back (left to right): Ashna Ashok, Minolee Vora.
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Photo Credit: NASA
A lunar habitat module, paper that captures sound as energy and a drug delivery system for use in space. What do these inventions have in common? They’re all concepts being developed for commercialization by high school students competing in the Conrad Foundation’s Innovation Summit.

The summit is being held April 8-10, 2010 at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The "Spirit of Innovation" award is in honor of the late Charles 'Pete' Conrad, a highly decorated naval aviator and astronaut who flew Gemini V, Gemini XI, commanded Apollo XII and was the third person to walk on the moon. Conrad went on to fly Skylab, our first space station. He received a Congressional Space Medal of Honor for his work on Skylab.

Nancy Conrad, wife of the late Pete Conrad, serves as chairman of the Conrad Foundation. She formed the program to provide high school students with an understanding of science and technology and give them an opportunity to solve real world problems through innovation and entrepreneurship.

During the three-day event, 25 teams from all over the U.S. present their ideas to a panel of experts similar to the way start-up entrepreneurs "pitch" to potential investors. The teams create an online portfolio (videos, blog and "company" logo) to present to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and scientists.

Winning teams receive an opportunity to commercialize the technology and $5,000 in seed money to further develop the product.

"Our goal is to excite students about science, technology and innovation by connecting them with top entrepreneurs, scientists and industry leaders," said Joshua Neubert, executive director for the Conrad Foundation.

Niveditha Jayasekar, a student from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., said she became fascinated with nanotechnology as early as the sixth grade. Jayasekar and her four teammates are using a patented nanotechnology developed by NASA scientist Dr. David Loftus to deliver pharmaceuticals in microgravity. The team hopes the product could lead to future breakthroughs in the field of space medicine.

Monta Vista High School teacher Carl Schmidt is the team’s advisor and representative for Future Business Leaders of America. Schmidt said contrary to most science competitions, students in the Conrad Innovation Summit approach projects with an entrepreneurial mindset. "They need to think about who has a problem and will pay to get it solved," Schmidt said. "The goal is to take a technological idea to the commercial market."

Schmidt said the students gain experience working with scientists as well as an understanding of the market. He adds that the competition, which has 30 percent female participation, is a unique way to recruit more females into science and technology fields.

The 25 finalist teams will compete in four categories: aerospace exploration, renewable energy, green schools and space nutrition. Beginning March 29, 2010, the public can visit the Conrad Foundation Web site and vote for their favorite team. Winners for the People’s Choice Awards will be announced on April 10, 2010.

For more information about the Conrad Innovation Summit, visit:

http://www.conradawards.org
 
 
Cathy Weselby
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.