How much sugar is in that soda you’ve just selected to accompany your evening meal? How many calories will it add to your day – and in what way will those calories impact your overall health?
Over a long weekend, four Philadelphia University students from three different academic backgrounds – and one graduate student from across an ocean – came together to discuss those questions and the global health challenge they represent.
And, in just three days, this self- proclaimed “dream team” was able to develop a user-friendly solution, debut a working prototype on campus, astound the University’s president and take home the Most Innovative Concept Award at PhilaU’s 2015 Nexus Maximus Event.
“It was so simple, but so clear,” said PhilaU President Stephen Spinelli Jr. “I immediately thought – this is something that’s already market-ready, something we should install here. It’s mind-blowing that there’s no limit to the creative potential of people who’ve spent only a few days together.”
The five students comprised one of 45 teams made up of 330 students who participated in the second annual Nexus Maximus sprint project sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.
For Team TALLY – which included Aria Lee, a junior industrial design major; Evan McNaught, a sophomore studying landscape architecture; Caroline Hinckley, a senior fashion merchandising major; Kellyn Kemmerer, a freshman fashion merchandising major; and Thomas Demmer, a mechanical engineer at Paris-Est d.School (an innovative graduate design program in France) – it was all about “giving the power to the users.”
“A lot of people didn’t realize how much sugar and how many calories were in the soda they were drinking, so we wanted to make it easier for them to recognize and visualize,” said Lee, gesturing to the prototype, a design that counts the number of calories and grams of sugar in the amount of soda a user dispenses from a soda fountain and equates that amount with sugar packets, so the user has a better idea of just how much he or she has consumed.
Data collected by the device could be sold to soda companies and insurance companies to create a revenue stream, added McNaught.
Team TALLY received a lot of feedback when they set up their prototype in the university cafeteria, and many students were shocked when they realized just what they were putting into their bodies.
“People don’t like when you tell them something’s bad for them. It’s better to give them a little push so they’ll find out for themselves,” Lee said. “And this is just a prototype – it could be expanded in the future to vending machines; it could measure fat content in foods; the possibilities are endless.”
All five students were amazed at how well they were able to work together, each offering unique perspectives and skills that complemented one another.
“I was able to bring my experience as an engineer, and each one of them brought their different visions and methods of solving problems from the design and customer sides,” Demmer said. “I learned a lot from their views which I can bring back with me to France.”
D.R. Widder, vice president of innovation at PhilaU, said industries and universities are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity in innovation – a concept perfectly illustrated by Nexus Maximus.
“Most of these students didn’t know each other, and that’s especially true for our international participants,” he said. “These students came across the ocean to sleep on our students’ couches, share ideas and collaborate with them on real-world challenges.”
That sentiment was supported by Michael Moscherosch, director of research and development for external innovation and alliances at Johnson & Johnson. “From the industry perspective, we get great ideas from an event like this,” he said. “These students are unencumbered by prior knowledge, data and other constraints. They very often go down pathways we don’t understand at first, but then we end up wondering why we hadn’t thought of them.”
For Tod Corlett, director of PhilaU’s Industrial Design Program, the second year of Nexus Maximus exceeded expectations – in its sheer size and the ingenuity of the ideas produced.
“This year, I saw a combination of innovation, common sense and critical thinking when it came to solving problems,” Corlett said. “Our students – and the students involved in our global network – were able to create powerful solutions that could actually meet real-world challenges.”
Another one of those solutions – winner of the People’s Choice Award – focused on the problems of obesity, nutritional deficiencies and mental health issues among children in low-resource areas.
“With Viridian Education, we bring the outdoors inside – giving young children the opportunity to grow their own food, learn about science and work collaboratively, and then prepare this healthy, locally grown food in their own kitchens,” explained Michael Gregori, a sophomore landscape architecture major, who developed the concept with teammates Austin Becker, Clay Helfrick, Danielle Schipps, Declan Flynn, Gabby Karlis, James Laurie and Yisma’el Shareef-Trudeau.
“Working as a team toward this idea allowed us to make connections and realize the benefits of our teammates’ experience and knowledge,” he said. “Feedback from the professors really helped, too. This was a true cross-collaboration, and we believe the resulting solution could make a significant impact on children’s health.”