Carnegie Mellon University

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Showcase of Undergrad Inventions

Meeting of the Minds

Elise Walton is using her art education at Carnegie Mellon University to preserve the environment. Her prototype of a sculpture replacing a home's downspout is one of many innovative ideas on display at the university's annual Meeting of the Minds undergraduate research symposium in University Center today between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

"The sculpture not only funnels water off the roof but also retains it, using it to water plants," Walton explained. "I'm very interested in how art can be utilitarian and functional, in this case using it to address problems with rainwater retention in Wilkinsburg."

Walton's intention with the sculpture is to show residents an alternative and more attractive way they could reroute rainwater off their roofs.

"Each section of the sculpture is designed so viewers could potentially make it in their own home, especially the rain chain component," she said.

Tim Helbig, a biology major and a recipient of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, has always been a fan of Meeting of the Minds.

"I think it's a very unique Carnegie Mellon event that is almost taken for granted because research is such a natural part of students' lives here," Helbig said. "Everyone seems to have something that they do that they're completely impassioned about, and it's nice to see everyone completely uninhibited talking about what they love."

Helbig is presenting his research on the possible implications of nanosilver in the environment, a project he completed last summer as part of a summer undergraduate research fellowship (SURF).

"I was very excited that I got to do it in the Engineering and Public Policy department, far from my home in biology," Helbig said. "What fascinated me about the project was how much was not known. Nanosilver is something that is now, at an alarmingly increasing rate, being put into more and more consumer products. But it is not certain what will happen when it escapes those products and becomes part of the environment."

Helbig and Walton are among more than 450 students from the university's six undergraduate schools who will share their work through oral presentations, poster sessions, prototype demonstrations, art installations and live performances at the event. Projects focus on a variety of contemporary issues.

"Whether in the sciences or in engineering or in the arts and humanities, environmental issues are a critical part of the research agenda at Carnegie Mellon," said Stephanie Wallach, URO director and assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.  "Meeting of the Minds is a unique venue where the conversation across the disciplines about these new ideas and solutions takes place."

Students will compete for 17 awards sponsored by university organizations, individual donors and companies such as IBM, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Semiconductor Research Corporation and Yahoo.

Pictured: A visitor to Walton's exhibit creates a planter at the exhibit's soil station.

Related Links: Read the Press Release  |  Watch 2009 Meeting of the Minds Highlights  |  Undergraduate Research Office