Microsoft, Google, and Facebook were all started by students who never could have predicted that their projects — and products — would change the world. But the winners of the Broadcom Foundation University Research Competition, selected by a panel of technical experts at Broadcom and hundreds of the company’s top engineers, just might.

University Research Competition Finalists 2013

University Research Competition finalists take the stage at Broadcom’s Technical Conference in Irvine, Calif.

Broadcom co-founder, Chairman and Chief Technical Officer Henry Samueli kicked off the evening by introducing the 12 competitors— graduate-level engineering students who hail from top universities around the globe — and laid the ground rules for voting.

He reminded the students of the cash prizes at stake, ($10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $2,500 for third) and relayed how impressed he was with their work.

“I don’t know how you will decide a winner,” Samueli said. “They are all exceptional — the quality of the projects and the students.”

Winning Research

University Research Competition First Prize Winner Yanghyo (Rod) Kim from UCLA demonstrates an innovative way to transfer data through a plastic tube.

The first prize winner of the competition was Yanghyo (Rod) Kim from the University of California, Los Angeles, who found an innovative way to transfer data, sans conductive wires. He wowed the crowd with a demo that accomplished data transfer between two nodes using only lightweight, inexpensive plastic tubing (think: long drinking straw).

Coming in second was Wanghua Wu from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands whose research on creating low-cost, low-power transmitters enables millimeter wave signals and Gigabit-speed data to be sent over short distances. She predicted that the potential power and cost savings of the technology could help with the development of sensors for self-driving cars and enhance the smart grid.

Third place went to Manuel Monge of the California Institute of Technology, who helped create a microchip that can be implanted in a retinal prosthesis, powered by glasses. The optical technology would dramatically improve vision for people who are blind or who are losing their vision due to degenerative diseases. His display included a video that showed how blind people would be able to see again (including recognizing faces and reading text) with the help of the implanted chip.

About the University Research Competition

Every year, the Broadcom Foundation gathers abstracts from the best and brightest grad students at universities whose technology research was funded by the Foundation in the previous year.

A committee selects the top 12 students to compete for cash awards. As part of that competition, each student attends Broadcom’s annual Technical Conference, where they offer a three-minute on-stage pitch about their research and then engage during a reception with the more than 400 Broadcom engineers who will ultimately vote for their favorites.

See More Photos from the Broadcom Technical Conference on Facebook.

During a reception, the visited individually with each of the students. They walked from station to station, not only testing the student’s knowledge, but displaying a true curiosity for potential real-world applications of the research. The students were judged on their technical prowess and also on their communication skills.

Previously: Innovation Comes Full Circle as Engineers Bring Ideas, Enthusiasm to Broadcom Technical Confab

University Research Competition Winners

From left to right: Third place winner Monge, first place winner Kim and second place winner Wu, with their prize money.

The applications of the projects were wide-ranging but fit into a few broad categories. About half of the  research focused on biomedical applications, while others improve digital communication by boosting signal strength while reducing power consumption for a variety of electronic devices. All of the research shared the common mission of bringing better technology, and with it, better quality of life, to people all over the world.

Other projects included a medical implant device from Mahmoudreza Saadat of Stanford – a small chip that can be implanted into human tissue. From there, it can help perform diagnostics by sending data to an ultrasound wand with an RF receiver attached. National Technical University of Athens student Maria Koutsoupidou looked at how the terahertz spectrum could be leveraged by government security groups to non-invasively scan for explosives in airports or perhaps detect cancerous cells. And Samuel Jameson of Tel Aviv University in Israel showed how his millimeter wave generator that could provide imaging and radar to traditionally analog devices.

Will any of these projects be something that changes lives? Broadcom certainly hopes so.

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