Convergence Idea Challenge Winners

By Justin Chen

What does it take to make a scientific breakthrough? A flicker of insight, state-of-the art equipment, years of dogged experimentation, and, perhaps, luck. Another critical ingredient, often overlooked, is the ability to truly integrate specialized skills and processes from a variety of fields such as engineering, physics, and computation with the life sciences. Such integration, termed Convergence Research, is exemplified by the effort to sequence the human genome where chemists tinkered with reactions to sequence DNA, computer scientists pieced together roughly three billion data points into a complete genome, and biologists mapped health outcomes to specific genes.

The time between solving the structure of DNA to assembling the genome sprawled across fifty years, but leading scientists believe that a coordinated Convergence effort will accelerate biomedical research. Already researchers are collaborating to grow replacement organs in laboratories and test cancer vaccines. However, funding for Convergence is scarce and many scientists and engineers at research universities are isolated within their respective departments.

To encourage Convergence research, MIT directed an Idea Challenge where emerging researchers submitted their most innovative and multidisciplinary ideas for improving human health. The challenge, running from May 22nd to June 24th 2016, garnered entries from across the country. A panel of judges including Nobel Laureate Phillip Sharp, MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield, and Koch Institute Director Tyler Jacks awarded cash prizes to the top three submissions. Contest entries, posted online, were also eligible for a community choice award.

Read about the winning entries below.



One project was also selected as the Community Choice winner, through an online vote on Facebook. This prize was not exclusive of the others. Over 1,100 votes were cast, and the winner—  with 663 votes—was also our first prize choice: “Engineering a Flexible Organic Photovoltaic Cell as an Artificial Retina to Restore Sight: A Promising Vision in Bio-nanoelectronics.”

Congratulations to all who participated! To see all of the entries, please visit the “Convergence Idea Challenge” on Facebook.