Engineering graduate student wins Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

Federico Scurti, a Ph.D. candidate in North Carolina State
University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), has won a
$15,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for his work in enabling applications of
high temperature superconductors (HTS), specifically for inventions to detect
and prevent HTS failure.

The Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition
is a nationwide search for the most inventive individual graduate students and
undergraduate student teams. The program awarded a total of $90,000 in
prizes to three undergraduate teams and four individual graduate student
inventors for inventions in
transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer

Scurti, who is part of the Narayan Research Group, headed by Jagdish Narayan, John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor in MSE, won in the “Move it!” category for technology-based inventions that improve transportation and mobility.

Specifically, Scurti developed three inventions to detect and
prevent failure in HTS. HTS is the best superconducting material for efficient,
powerful and carbon-free motors for ships, aircraft and magnetic levitation
trains. Superconducting electric motors have a higher current density and
smaller or no power losses, which enable them to achieve higher efficiencies
and higher power-to-weight ratio than conventional, copper-based motors. HTS
can also enable a new concept of compact nuclear fusion reactor for power
generation. However, HTS is not used commercially because there was no way to
detect or prevent failures. When HTS fails, it generates heat capable of
permanently damaging the superconductor and magnet essential to its operation.

Scurti’s primary invention, the SMART Conductor, is an optical
fiber co-wound with superconducting wire that forms a fully monitored
superconducting magnet. The optic fiber can detect and localize a change in
temperature or strain in the superconducting wire, and this detection is
analyzed in real time to prevent failure. His secondary invention is a
composite coating that improves the thermal sensitivity of optical fiber
sensors at cryogenic temperatures, which are used in participle accelerators
for cancer therapy and physics research. Relatedly, his tertiary invention,
“SMART Cables,” monitor and sense failure of high current superconducting cables,
which are used in nuclear fusion reactors, particle accelerators and other

His inventions, which are all patented, could lead to a new
generation of environmentally friendly and high efficiency transportation
systems. They are licensed to the startup company Lupine Materials and
Technology, and the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and Department of Energy have all
expressed interest in its technologies.

Alexander Richter, a former Ph.D. student in NC State’s Department of Chemical
and Biomolecular Engineering, was the first student from a North Carolina
school to win a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize when he received the award in 2015.

The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Founded by Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1994, the program is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the College of Engineering at MIT.

Winners were selected from a large and highly competitive pool of applicants from across the United States. Students were selected based on a variety of factors including: the overall inventiveness of their work, the invention’s potential for commercialization or adoption and youth mentorship experience. Each winning team of undergraduates received $10,000 and each graduate student winner received $15,000.

This story was written by Danielle Herman, Engineering Communications.

This post was originally published in NC State News.