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Invent for the Planet winning team.
The Texas A&M team -Illumi-Nite took home the grand prize at Invent for the Planet and an opportunity to present at the VentureWell OPEN Minds Conference. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

Second place team from Myanmar to travel to Texas A&M and collaborate on solution

More than 400 students participated in Invent for the Planet, the 48-hour global design challenge hosted by Texas A&M University, in February. But in the end it was a team right here in College Station who took home the grand prize - an opportunity to present at the VentureWell OPEN Minds Conference.

Since the grand prize also included a trip to Texas A&M, the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program decided to open that opportunity up to the second-place team - a team from the University of Technology in Yadanabon Cyber City, Myanmar, so they could collaborate with the Texas A&M team.

The Texas A&M team -Illumi-Nite - developed a platform that can be used to hold LED (light-emitting diode) lights for children in developing countries without access to electricity. Team Edu-LIGHTER from Myanmar developed a power source for the same need statement. By combining both innovative ideas, the teams will be able to collaboratively produce a complete solution.

"We’re very proud of Team Illumi-Nite for coming up with such an innovative idea in just 48 hours, and I’m thrilled that we were able to invite Team Edu-LIGHTER from Myanmar to come to Texas A&M," said Rodney Boehm, director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program at Texas A&M. "This was a global competition and I can’t wait to see these two teams collaborating together, in person, on a solution to a real problem."

The need statement, sourced by associate professor Dr. Fernando Buarque at the University of Pernambuco in Brazil, indicates that education is a key component to ending poverty. It tasked students with designing a creative, inexpensive environment for multiple children to study in the evenings when the sun has gone down.

Adam Curtis, Illumi-Nite team member and junior electrical engineering major, said he is excited to see this project become a real product that can be used by children.

"Limited access to electricity will continue to be a problem in these developing countries, and access to an education will remain the best option most children have to escape poverty," he said.

For team member An Nguyen, a freshman engineering student, this need statement hit close to home.

"I chose this need statement because of my father’s story back when he was a little kid," she said. "He told me about his life living in poverty, not having enough electricity to power through the night."

Nguyen said her father would catch fireflies around his village in Vietnam and put them in eggshells as a glow lamp to study. Other times he would use a kerosene lamp, but this became a fire hazard when he would fall asleep while studying.

"These stories stirred something inside me to help children who have gone through the difficulties like my father," she said. "I know that people like my father, if provided with the opportunity to learn and grow, their determination will excel beyond their peers."

The team’s design allows children to create their platform using items that are easily found around the world, such as plastic bottles.

Teammate Adrianna Hernandez Aguirre, a sophomore landscape architecture student, said Illumi-Nite could easily be used by children in her home country of Mexico and all over.

"When I was in high school I did social work in rural communities as a tutor, and I can say that many children in the world could benefit from Illumi-Nite," she said. "I would be very proud of my teammates and myself if we could impact a child’s future by allowing him or her to study at night."

Sarojeet Deb, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, also drew from his own personal experiences when he selected this need statement from a list of 15 needs. As a child growing up near Mumbai, India, he frequently experienced power outages at night. He said he’s also excited to collaborate with the team from Myanmar to help make sure they finish their project.

"With their help we’ll be able to eliminate the biggest shortcoming of our design - absence of a power source," he said. "We plan on integrating our designs and coming up with a comprehensive solution to tackle the problem."

Boehm said he’s excited that Illumi-Nite wants to see this product through to market.

"In the end that’s what it’s all about," Boehm said. "We want these students to be inspired to make a difference in the world through entrepreneurship."

In addition to the Texas A&M and Myanmar teams, Boehm has been hearing positive feedback from the 13 other universities who joined the challenge.

"By giving these students a platform for collaboration and communication, we were able to bridge cultural gaps and open each student up to a world of possibilities," he said. "It was amazing to see."

Team Illumi-Nite and Edu-LIGHTER will work together later this month on their solution and will present at VentureWell’s OPEN Minds Conference in Austin on March 24.