Pressing Forward: Grainger Computing Innovation Prize Rewards Student Research Tackling Global Challenges



By Casey Moffitt

Illinois Institute of Technology’s inaugural Grainger Computing Innovation Prize attracted 25 student research teams and culminated in a grand finale event on November 10, with the grand prize awarded to Team GiGi (Green lightnInG coin) for developing a sustainable digital currency.

The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize calls on Illinois Tech students to discover creative technology solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges facing the world today: health disparities, climate change, and the need for sustainable smart infrastructure. Five student teams pitched their prototypes to a panel of esteemed judges, the Illinois Tech community, and invited guests as part of the finals, each vying for one of three cash prizes.

Team GiGi’s goal was to develop a digital currency that is not only more energy efficient, but also competes in speed with other centralized payment processing approaches such as credit cards. 

“Digital currencies like Bitcoin are here to stay, but they currently have a disproportionate carbon footprint and slow transaction speeds,” says Gabriel Bryk (CS 3rd Year), Team GiGi leader. “Our new digital currency GiGi, Green lightnInG coin, increases transaction throughput through larger blocks with smaller block times and achieves energy efficiency on par with centralized solutions using an improved proof-of-space algorithm leveraging XSearch to secure the digital currency.” 

The competitive field of research teams presented an exciting range of projects in the finals, ranging from smart devices to help make recycling easier and more accurate and technology addressing mental health access disparities for sexual violence survivors to modularized workplace safety implementation and a smart waste compressor that aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in developing countries, along with GiGi.

Team GiGi walked away from the competition with $15,000 in prize money. Waste Allocation Load Compressor earned a second-place prize of $10,000 for developing an inexpensive smart waste compressor that decreases street and waterway pollution. Receptify took the $5,000 third-place prize for developing a tool for reducing barriers to recovery and rehabilitation for sexual violence survivors on college campuses.

“All of the projects that we saw in the finals of the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize were outstanding and demonstrate the innovative thinking and talent among the Illinois Tech students,” says Brian Walker, Illinois Tech trustee and Grainger vice president and chief product officer. “What really stood out to us about GiGi more than its energy efficiency and speed was its accessibility: moving from a [graphics processing unit] to hard drives opens up digital currency for a much wider market.” 

Each team included students from a cross section of academic backgrounds, with the goal of encouraging diversity of thought, unique solutions, and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“Computing naturally sits at the heart of solutions to today’s global problems,” says Lance Fortnow, dean of Illinois Tech’s College of Computing. “Placing computing at the center of the solution to these pressing problems represents a core goal of the establishment of the College of Computing here at Illinois Tech: computing and data infused into the core of our educational approach, across each discipline.”

“At Illinois Tech, students are called to be purpose-driven citizens. Our university was born to liberate the collective power of difference to drive innovation for all,” says Raj Echambadi, Illinois Tech president. “The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize reflects this purpose by encouraging students to bring different ways of thinking to tackling some of the world's most critical challenges.”

A generous endowed gift funded by The Grainger Foundation supports the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize annually.

“The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize is a perfect example of what philanthropy does to make a difference at Illinois Tech,” says Ernie Iseminger, vice president of advancement at Illinois Tech.

“The Grainger Computing Innovation Prize provides an invaluable opportunity for our students to utilize what they’ve learned inside the classroom and to directly apply their skills to the challenges that our society faces today,” says Illinois Tech Provost Peter Kilpatrick. “The Grainger Foundation, in generously supporting this competition, is empowering Illinois Tech students with authentic experiences to help them forge pathways into meaningful work and lifelong learning.” 

Photo: Members of the Grainger Computing Innovation Prize winning student team, Team GiGi: [From left] Jacklyn McAninch (CS 3rd Year), Mahad Haider (CS 3rd Year), Ryan McPhail (CS 3rd Year), Neil John (ME 3rd Year), and Gabriel Bryk (CS 3rd Year)