Research & Innovation

Sweet Beats, Cancer Killers, Magic Mushrooms and More: How Stevens’ 2024 Innovation Expo Rocked the House

Annual event showcased more than 200 projects demonstrating Stevens student ingenuity, teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship

Stevens’ annual showcase of senior student ingenuity took over campus April 26 under nothing but blue skies. Students, faculty, staff and guests were knee deep in the hoopla — and what a day it was.

Mind control, super 'shrooms, gripping narratives

The event began with welcoming remarks from Stevens Provost Jianmin Qu and President Nariman Farvardin in the Babbio Center. The long-awaited Thomas H. Scholl Lecture by Visiting Entrepreneurs followed, sponsored by trustee emeritus Scholl and given this year by a double Stevens graduate: Giuseppe Incitti ’04 M.Eng. ’04, CEO of the enterprise software firm Sitetracker.

Incitti’s talk touched upon his Stevens years and early career (“I jumped around a lot”), noting how they prepared him well for his eventual jump into a new entrepreneurial venture that would eventually become a hugely successful technology company. He also dispensed plenty of helpful tips for those thinking about following suit someday.Giuseppe Incitti ’04 M.Eng. ’04Giuseppe Incitti ’04 M.Eng. ’04, CEO of the enterprise software firm Sitetracker.

"Execute, energize others and always look for edge,” he advised.

Then the gates opened on the 225+ individual and student projects spread across campus — helpfully organized by an official Stevens Ducks mobile app tailored for the day.

Canavan Arena contained the highest concentration of projects, with more than 80 booths arranged in squares, triangles and other configurations filling the cavernous gym. Projects here ranged from toxic-sucking mushrooms (really!) and wireless cardiac and radio technologies to mechanical marvels, autonomous underwater vehicles, walls and bridges, and a “seeing-eye belt” that helps visually challenged people detect objects in their path.

One of the coolest entrants on the Canavan floor was CorText, an incredible student team-devised method of controlling your computer keyboard with just your thoughts. (The good thoughts.) It works by sampling your brain waves as you think about directions, then using that training to help you control your cursor.

“This could be particularly useful for those with muscular dystrophy or other disabilities pertaining to the arms and the hands,” said team member Zoe Casten, who donned the headset and did indeed float her cursor around a screen.

Another project in Canavan, helpfully dubbed GRIP, showed off a neat prosthetic robotic hand that closed on cue in extremely human-like fashion.

Team Mycoremediation of Heavy Metals in Groundwater tested three strains of oyster mushroom and displayed the results in color bars on a poster, plus one of their sample ‘shrooms.

Their takeaway? The fungi can hoover up amazing quantities of dangerous metals — particularly when several strains are mixed together to compete for space. The act of battling actually changes their biochemistry, acting like a vacuum on the metals. They then produce a gooey substance that can be safely disposed of.

“With studies like this in hand,” said team member Maurice Chevalier, “you could then plan, for example, to plant combinations of strains that were known to produce the highest removal rates of heavy metals from water.”

“This is really promising for bioremediation, which is where my own professional interest also is,” added team member Paul Garipov. Two River, a New Jersey mushroom farm, partnered and supplied those fantastic fungi.

Joint projects, pier evaluations, plane sense

Among a plethora of great biomedical engineering projects in the arena was team WoundWatch, which displayed its novel system for inexpensively and portably monitoring whether wounds are healing well or not. The team’s idea is to dab a wound, taking a sample while monitoring the wound's temperature and blood oxygen saturation level during a 30-second measurement.

The sample is then applied to a test strip to determine its pH — which turns out to be useful intel.

“The pH of a wound site closely correlates to how it is healing,” explained senior Amelia Rehrig as she demonstrated with a slide, test box and lifelike arm model. “If the site quick-tests as too alkaline, then you may want to visit your health-care provider and follow up to be sure you’re healing properly.”

Other cool biomed projects nearby included a nifty universal prosthetic socket, several applications and devices geared to monitoring and improving women’s health; and a device that does PT on your knee all by itself (more on that in a bit). Student Project - Prosthetic Socket

Graduating mechanical engineers also unpacked and deployed in Canavan. One team unveiled Starbust, a hexagonal collapsible space antenna that unfolds and deploys when it is cast — as demonstrated in a tub of water, outer space being booked solid for the day. (See the video below to check it out.). Extra points for free actual Starburst candies at their booth, too.

Another team, Omni-Shot 2.0, unveiled a large mobile camera robot that displayed agile moves and turns within a tight ring of onlookers as they gawked and tried to look cool rather than nervous. The team was sponsored by L3Harris’ design mentorship program.

Team DewView showed off its a six-foot-tall scale-model water tower against one wall of the gym. The tower, which passively wrings tiny droplets of moisture out of fog, mist and the air and then collects it as drinking water, was actually tested on campus — where it passed with flying colors.

“This scale model has a lot of potential to help those who don't have access to clean drinking water," said team member Madison Sappia. “We calculated this size model, if built in real life, could produce enough water for about four people. A larger model could supply multiple homes.”

The portable water-tower concept could be useful, she added, during emergencies when water suddenly becomes unavailable for a home or a neighborhood.Haptic guitar being demonstrated at 2024 Innovation Expo

A novel firefighting seaplane-hull design caught a number of onlookers’ eyes, as did the fab guitar game Haptic Hero nearly next door. The game assists players with helpful, gentle vibrations to cue the next notes or chords as they shred that Ingwe Malmsteen solo — particularly useful for visually impaired players who want to rock out.

Several other projects in the arena were created with socially beneficial goals specifically in mind, too, such as the proposed redesign and renovation of an East Harlem pier (team “Pier Pressure,” natch).

“We focused both on the positive socioeconomic aspects of creating 10 new blocks of green space plus an attractive public space in East Harlem,” said team member Jake Wills, describing the project created with partner engineering firm Stantec, “but also the sustainability aspect.”

“The projected level of the Hudson River in 2100 at high tide will be well above the current level of the East Side piers in that area. This pier, if designed, would create a barrier and protect local residents in that neighborhood from flooding.”

Another project, team Alxandria, proposes using AI-generated lectures and other course content to help Ukrainian educators deliver educations to disrupted classrooms during that nation’s protracted conflict with Russia.

Nuke maps, airport apps, forever filters

Across the way, in the UCC, School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) students filled the ground-level Gallery space with a fascinating array of humanities research and art-tech mashups.

Academic studies in the space tackled such topics as sound design, food in children’s literature, the privacy of wearable devices, diversity in the video game industry, the regulation of AI, and inflammatory social media. There were also student-performed musical works and auditory experiences, plus a project that revealed what goes on when piano music is professionally recorded.

Downstairs, just outside the UCC’s Tech Flex Auditorium, School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) students displayed remarkable innovations such as an airport-guide app (we need this now) called Planumand a tool that tracks and visualizes the carbon emissions of NYC and New Jersey commuters.

“Airports can be frustrating,” explained Planum team member Ajay Movva, explaining how the app combines live airline and security updates with detailed walking directions to the user's desired points of interest once inside.

A student shares his Commuter Emissions Tracker research.A software engineering team pulled data from Google’s API to visualize the carbon emissions of Hoboken and NYC regional transportation — from cars to buses and trains — in real time. STEM-T team member Justin Chen pointed to various-color circles and lines displayed on the tracker. (Hoboken: bright green, because lots of people walk.)

Inside Tech Flex, teams presented variegated projects including a personalized exercise app, a harbor-current displaying app and a nuclear-facilities map.

One team of computer science majors, sponsored by tech firm Lenovo and known as Project LISA, designed a gamified tool that helps encourage laptop users to better control and change their own behaviors when using devices.

“The idea is to give you feedback and make it fun,” said team member Chancelor Assiamah. “Laptop users can control their own choices. Let’s say you want to save energy, use the battery or dim the screen more often, take a little down time or even clean up your hard drive.”

Nearby, in Gateway North’s expansive Corcoran Room, other teams presented fascinating chemistry, biology and (yes) chemical biology research.

Posters and projects described “natural killer” cells (yes, they’re really called that) in our bodies that fight cancer; the possible role of taurine in macular degeneration, a progressive eye disorder; and cellulose-based filters that separate microplastics from drinking water; and the potentially terrifying effects of PFOS “forever chemicals” on the human body, among other efforts.

Down the hill in Babbio, School of Business seniors filled the sunny building atrium as well as an adjacent classroom, displaying and discussing research projects ranging from fintech and risk to quant analyses and derivatives deep dives alongside consultancies for local businesses like The Hoboken Girl and Boomerang Bites.

A handful of cool student entrepreneurial ventures, including bamboo-and-hemp eco-fabric merchants Leaf & Loom and snazz-gaming-table startup Tabesk, rounded out the businesslike, yet never boring, Babbio set.

From noon until 2 p.m., the annual Gallois Autonomous Robot Competition also thrilled guests, as mini-bots were put through the paces on a complex little rink-like obstacle course in the Schaefer Athletic Center lobby. (Think of it as a robot Octagon. Sans the violence.)

Once the digital and mechanical smoke had cleared, three teams’ bots stood atop the proverbial mountaintop: the team of Paul Choi, Christian Osowski and Kaitlyn Pettit (first place); that of Gabriella Fama, Molly McCann, Antonia Panagopoulou and Xiangxi Wang (second); and Yann Gorski, Rylee Hussey and Lenny Yanza (third).

Rock a little: The annual student concert

Anticipation for HASS’ annual student concert, piqued by the release of the first-ever Expo Spotify Playlist, built for weeks.

Finally, at 2 p.m., the smokin’ set kicked off — and there was plenty of talent on displayPerformers on stage at 2024 Innovation Expo

Justin Lebet played drums while a band of Liam Cunningham, Drayton Barrand, Kata Tramm and Henry Fuerey backed and help perform cuts from his original album. Fellow drummer Jack Piccirillo also played his own songs, accompanied by AJ Kasper, Taran Miller and Aaron Lurch.

Sean Donohue delivered a few tracks from his debut album, supported by friends and alumni; Mark Huggins performed and mixed two funky synth tracks from a debut EP. Justin Saldana fronted a power trio with original tunes that harkened back to ‘90s bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Green Day and their ilk.

Michael Hoovler then performed an acoustic set before a bebop trio concluded the concert.

The entire Music & Technology faculty cohort showed up to lend moral support —and Attila, President Farvardin and HASS Dean Kelland Thomas were also spotted watching (sometimes bopping) in the crowd.

“Fantastic diversity and talent this year, as always,” said Music and Technology Program Director Rob Harari, overseeing the concert once again.

A pitch at the knees hits a homer

As is traditional, the final event was perhaps the most thrilling: The Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, featuring six teams (picked from more than 100) pitching fascinating apps, machines, products and services — while asking a panel of accomplished judges for investments, Shark Tank-style.

Local entrepreneur Aaron Price once again handled emcee duties, thanking the sponsoring Ansary family and keeping the mood light.

“I’ve had an incredible relationship with this university,” said Price, a Hoboken resident for 18 years. “Most people around the country and many around the world are aware of the incredible activity that’s happening here.”

Then the six finalist teams gave their final pitches to the crowd and took hard-nosed questions from the panel of judges, after which they convened to score the projects based on those pitches.

Team Knee-sy Does It, a biomedical engineering quartet bringing an automated (and heated) knee cuff/physical therapy device, made the best pitch of all — good for top prize and a ginormous $10,000 check. Goodbye, Mr. Spalding! Team Knee-sy Does ItTeam Knee-sy Does It, which took top prize in the Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, with Stevens President Nariman Farvardin.

“Winning the Ansary competition was such an honor and an incredibly profound experience,” said team member Grace Fukazawa afterward. “It's a testament to the countless hours of hard work put in throughout the year, and the unwavering support from our advisors and peers.”

“Hearing "Knee-sy Does It" called on stage for first place was a moment of overwhelming joy and gratitude, symbolizing not just our achievement, but also the journey of growth and camaraderie we've shared throughout our senior design experience.”

“Working tirelessly on every detail, from concept to execution, was a labor of love,” added Brandon Sems. “Holding that oversized check on stage felt like the culmination of all those late nights and early mornings.”

“I'm immensely honored to have played a part in bringing our vision to life, and we're excited to use the money to actually pursue making Knee-sy Does It a real company and product.”

Second place went to TinnX, a tinnitus-treating digital technology that gives relief to those who hear chronic ringing noises in their ears. Third place went to Pulse PairIt, a novel neonatal vital-sign monitor that can be placed non-invasively atop an infant’s chest with a single unobstrusive strap.

Teams Personal Guide Belt, SEMSA 2.0 and OTT also made it to the Big Show, giving terrific accounts of their own projects and investment pitches on the DeBaun Auditorium stage.

“This is my sixth Expo,” summed adjunct professor Ryan Ona afterward at the convivial closing reception in the Babbio Atrium. “This one was better than ever. Each year it just builds upon the legacy of the previous Expos.”

“What I love about the Expo is that it’s not just a showcase for all this student innovation, although it is — but it’s a community-building event. Look at everyone here.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves. See you next year!