Winners of Competition to Reimagine the Chemistry Set Announced
Microfluidics “Lab on a Chip” Takes First Prize and $50,000 Award in Prototype Category
April 8, 2014 (Palo Alto, Calif.) – The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Society for
Science & the Public (SSP) today announced winners of the Science, Play and Research Kit
(SPARK) Competition, a challenge to reimagine the chemistry set for the 21st century. Winners
were selected in two categories: prototypes – projects that are operational and demonstrable -
and ideations – fleshed out project ideas that have not yet been developed into prototypes, but
have a strong potential for development.
The SPARK Competition focused on science beyond chemistry, challenging the nation’s most
creative minds to develop projects and ideas that will encourage imagination and interest in
science and technology, inspiring today’s children – often through immersive play and learning
through doing - much as the classic chemistry kit inspired earlier generations to learn, explore
Many of today’s scientific innovators – including Moore Foundation and Intel cofounder
Gordon Moore – attribute their early fascination with science to their childhood chemistry
sets. Yet, the chemicals in these classic sets are now illegal and replacement sets often lack
elements of excitement and wonder. The competition sought to elicit new catalysts that could
foster the persistent curiosity and creativity that lead to longer term engagement in science and
engineering, as well as to put a spotlight on the importance of experiences that ensue from
unscripted exploration and tinkering.
“As a whole, these winners conveyed an exciting variety of ways to get kids hooked on science
and engineering,” said Paul Gray, PhD, interim president of the Moore Foundation. “We need
these different entry points to cultivate a long-term interest in exploring science and technology.”
Manu Prakash, PhD (Stanford, CA), an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford
University, and his graduate student George Korir – who created what could literally be a 21st
century chemistry set - won the first place award of $50,000.
Prakash and Korir developed a prototype of an inexpensive “lab on a chip” using a technology known as “microfluidics.” Microfluidics uses programmable microchips containing miniature pipes, valves, and pumps to carry out a wide variety of chemistry or biology experiments. Until now, the high cost of this leading edge technology has confined its use to major laboratories. Prakash has found a way to produce very inexpensive (about $1) yet fully functional versions of this technology that children can use to design and carry out their own experiments – much as they would with traditional chemistry sets, but now using a safer self-contained kit with nanoliters of chemicals, enzymes and other reagents.
Second prize ($25,000) in the prototype category was won by Robijanto Soetedjo, MD, PhD
(Kenmore, WA), a neurophysiologist with the University of Washington. Dr. Soetedjo developed a
toy set that children can experiment with to see the effects of the electrical signals produced by
their muscles, their hearts, and even their brains. Electrodes are attached to a part of the body,
such as the forearm, and to another device that shows them the effects of their electrical signals.
For example, by tightening a hand grip, the child can turn on a light, spin a propeller, control a
motor or (through an audio amplifier) emit a sound. The toy set can also interface with a range of
computer devices and helps opens up the space of neuroscience and biofeedback as areas for
children to explore in play.
Tying for third place ($10,000) were a team led by biologist and geologist Barnas G. Monteith
(Tumblehome Learning, Inc.), of Brockton, MA, and including Pendred Noyce, MD (Weston, MA)
and Peter Wong (Brighton, MA); and a group led by physicist Deren Guler (Brooklyn, NY), along
with Michael Rule (Providence, RI) and Laura Miller (Brooklyn, NY).
The Tumblehome group, which also won second place in the ideation category for a related idea, developed what they call the “SenSay Sensor System.” The system is a modular all-in-one sensor and exploration kit with online supports. The kit lets explorers experiment with physics, environmental energy, biology, chemistry and engineering design without having to solder parts together or use a pre-existing bulky microcontroller. The sensor allows users to gather data,provides output on a computer, and provides immediate feedback via sound, light, and graphs.The kit provides a novel way to get children interested in – and interacting with– data and its analysis.
The Invent-abling team created a number of gender-neutral kits that enable young inventors to
create science and craft-based projects using such materials as color-changing fabric, switches,
magnetic viewing film, conductive ink, and electronics. The kits provide opportunities to learn
science concepts while children explore creative applications. The group has made an explicit
commitment to engaging girls and under-represented young people in the fun, thrill and work of
“making.” The kits evolved from the group’s realization that, although there are great kits for
creating electronic gadgets and wearable devices for young designers, many are geared more
Prototypes awarded honorable mention ($5,000 prize) included 4-D printing software and technology, an earth and space systems kit, a cardboard circuitry kit that requires building and soldering from scratch, data visualization and pattern recognition software for young children, and an expandable home science exploration kit.
Winning a first prize of $5,000 in the ideation category is David M. Gertler (San Francisco, CA), a
manufacturing engineer with Google X/Makani Power, for his “Survival Shelter Science Project.”
The proposed project would use a narrative theme to engage young people, ages eight and up, to
build and experiment with the goal of improving or creating a desert relief shelter. Scientific
techniques and engineering solutions would be applied to real-world materials. The project, which
could be done by an individual child or group of children, would require the young experimenters
to expand on general instructions in order to build, and provide power and water to, a model
shelter. Users would be provided with inexpensive instruments – such as thermometers and
voltmeters - to enable them to take simple measurements of the mechanical functions of their
Second prize ($2,500) in the ideation category was won by the Tumblehome Learning team, this
time led by physician and science education advocate Pendred Noyce, MD (Weston, MA), along
with Barnas Monteith and Peter Wong. Dr. Noyce and colleagues developed the concept of
SenSay Sustainable Villages©. If developed, the project will allow young people to design and
build model solutions to universal problems of human settlement, including shelter, heat and
insulation, lighting, solar and wind power, pumping and purifying water, growing plants with
irrigation or hydroponics, and managing a pond or aquarium. Users would experiment both
virtually and in the real world, where they will use sensors and other components of the SenSay
Sensor System to model solutions to challenges.
Winning third prize ($1,500) in the ideation category is Douglas Thornton (Columbus, OH), an
electrical and computer engineer with Battelle Memorial Institute, for “The Physics Ball – A
Microscope for Physics.” As envisioned, the “Microscope” provides students with an engaging,
explorative learning tool through the embedding of sensors inside a small ball. These sensors
would measure acceleration, angular rate, magnetic field, pressure and temperature. A wireless
link would transfer measurements from the ball to a user interface (computer or tablet), which
would provide data to the student. The user interface would define experiments, and could be
used with free apps and open-source software.
Entrants came from all walks of life, including K-12 science teachers, undergraduate and
graduate students, university professors, engineers, architects, toy designers, scientists and
inventors, among other professions. Nearly all states were represented.
“With a remarkable range and quality of entries submitted, our judges were challenged to narrow
down the top winners,” said Rick Bates, interim CEO and chief advancement officer, SSP. “The
prototypes and ideas of our winners have an especially strong potential to be developed and to
inspire kids to explore their world while developing a passion for science.”
One hundred twenty-five entries were received in the competition, which awarded a total of
$136,000 in prize money. Sixteen projects were selected for recognition. (Complete list of winners provided below.) Entries went through several rounds of judging by groups of independent evaluators selected for their scientific, engineering or education expertise. Prototype and ideation entries were judged by two separate pools of evaluators, and top-ranked entries were reviewed by a select group of judges.
“These projects exemplify the qualities that we should encourage in science education: hands-on
problem solving inspired by curiosity about how things work,” said UCSF Professor Emeritus
Bruce Alberts, PhD, who recently retired as editor-in-chief of Science, served as president of the
National Academy of Sciences, and has been a long-time, tireless advocate for science
education. Dr. Alberts sits on the Moore Foundation’s board of trustees.
For detailed descriptions of all winners’ projects, visit http://www.moore.org/programs/science/special-projects/spark.
Society for Science & the Public is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the achievement of young researchers in independent research and to the public engagement in science. Established in 1921, its vision is to promote the understanding and appreciation of science and the vital role it plays in human advancement. Through its acclaimed education competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and the Broadcom MASTERS, and its award winning Science News family of publications, Society for Science & the Public is committed to inform, educate, and inspire. Learn more at www.societyforscience.org.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation believes in bold ideas that create enduring impact in the areas of science, environmental conservation and patient care. Intel co-founder Gordon and his wife Betty established the foundation to create positive change around the world and at home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Science looks for opportunities to transform–or even create–entire fields by investing in early- stage research, emerging fields and top research scientists. Our environmental conservation efforts promote sustainability, protect critical ecological systems and align conservation needs with human development. Patient care focuses on eliminating preventable harms and unnecessary healthcare costs through meaningful engagement of patients and their families in a supportive, redesigned healthcare system. Visit us at www.Moore.org or follow @MooreScientific.
Manu Prakash, PhD, George Korir
“Punchcard Programmable Microfluidics”
Robijanto Soetedjo, MD, PhD
“Bioelectricity Toy Set”
University of Washington
Barnas G. Monteith, Peter Wong, Pendred Noyce, MD
“SenSay Sensor System”
Brockton, Brighton, and Weston, MA
Tumblehome Learning, Inc.
Deren Guler, Michael Rule, Laura Miller
Stephen H. Lewis
“Big Data for Little People”
New York, NY
New York Hall of Science
Margaret Richards, Peter Friedman
Carnegie Mellon University, Argonne National Laboratory
Robert B. Thompson
“EK01 Earth & Space Science Kit Prototype”
The Home Scientist, LLC
Skylar Tibbits, Jon Haines, Carlos Olguin, Shelly Linor
“4D Printing – Transforming Educational Models”
Boston, MA; Brookline, MA; San Francisco, CA; Rehovot, Israel
MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Stratasys Ltd., Autodesk Inc.
“Pulse6: Bringing Hands-on Chemistry Education to Life with the Sixth Sense”
Mikhail Yakhnis, Paul Chang, Oliver Kliewe
David M. Gertler
“Survival Shelter Science Project”
San Francisco, CA
Google X/Makani Power
Pendred Noyce, MD, Barnas Monteith, Peter Wong
“SenSay Sustainable Villages”
Weston, Brockton and Brighton, MA
Tumblehome Learning, Inc.
“The Physics Ball: A Microscope for Physics”
Battelle Memorial Institute
“The Food Lab for Kids”
Harvard University, EcoHealth Alliance
Peter Rillero, PhD
Arizona State University
*In most cases, entries were submitted on behalf of an individual or team, without the involvement of affiliated organizations. Winners’ affiliated organizations may or may not have played a role.