Narendra Maheshri - School of Engineering teams win big at this year's MassChallenge

MIT researchers devise a surprisingly simple but effective method for magnetically separating oil and water.

Nancy Adams and Alissa Mallinson
November 1, 2012

On Oct. 23, the world's largest accelerator program, MassChallenge, announced the winners of $1.1 million in prizes. The MIT School of Engineering was a big winner, with school-connected teams taking home two of the four top prizes.

Global Research Innovation and Technology (GRIT), led by Tish Scolnik '10, a D-Lab alumna and current D-Lab Scale-Ups fellow, was one of four winners of the major $100,000 prize. GRIT is the social enterprise incorporated last year to bring the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC), developed by Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE) Assistant Professor Amos Winter PhD '11, to market in the developing world.

The LFC, a first-place winner of the 2008 MIT IDEAS competition, takes advantage of simple physics and geometry principles to create a variable mechanical advantage drivetrain controlled by the rider's upper body strength and hand placement. The rider changes gears by either choking up on the lever to increase the power output or by gripping low to increase speed. Riders can remove and store the levers when they're maneuvering indoors and need less power. Built with bike parts, the low-cost wheelchair is easy and inexpensive to repair anywhere.

Another School of Engineering winner was LiquiGlide, a nontoxic, nonstick, super-slippery coating for condiment bottles developed by MechE Associate Professor Kripa Varanasi's laboratory. Made from food materials, LiquiGlide is easy to apply to food packaging and prevents stubborn condiments from sticking to the inside of the bottle. LiquiGlide also won earlier this year at MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, bringing home the Audience Choice Award. Along with Varanasi, the LiquiGlide team includes J. David Smith, Christopher J. Love, Adam Paxson, Brian Solomon and Rajeev Dhiman

The MassChallenge winners were culled from an initial field of 1,237 applicants from 35 countries and 36 states; 125 teams of entrepreneurs were chosen to spend the past four months in free office space in Boston's Innovation District, working with mentors to refine their startups. Those 125 were further narrowed down to 26 finalists prior to the announcement of the final cash-prize winners.