Student teams came together at Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology to battle it out for the 2018 Y-Prize, where nanoscale innovation was a running theme.

Participants, judges, and technology enthusiasts gathered at Penn’s Singh Center for Nanotechnology to see four finalist teams battle it out for the 2018 Y-Prize on January 30. Nanoscale innovation was a running theme at the Y-Prize this year — which marked the sixth Grand Finale for the University-wide, interdisciplinary competition.

Introduced at the Y-Prize kick-off event in September, this year’s technologies included:

  • Carbon nanopipettes developed by Prof. Haim Bau, which offer a promising way to inject liquids into cells and penetrate their nuclei.
  • Nanotribological printing, invented by Prof. Robert Carpick, which essentially involves additive manufacturing at the nanoscale.

The Y-Prize got its start in Penn’s GRASP Lab, but after two years expanded beyond robotics to feature other types of technology at Penn. The competition has incorporated a wide variety of nanotechnologies and biomedical engineering technologies over the past six years.

While the technologies have become more varied, they have remained cutting-edge, said Michelle Eckert, marketing and communications coordinator for the Mack Institute.

“One common thread runs through the competition from year to year: We try to choose exciting nascent technologies with unexplored potential, then invite students to unleash their creativity on them,” she said. “We never stop being surprised at the ideas students come back with!”

“Each year we invite the winning team back to speak to current participants about what they learned, so new teams get to benefit from that experience. There’s definitely a sense of momentum and growth to the competition as it becomes more established on campus.”

This Year’s Contenders

The teams had to deliver their presentations and defend their proposal in front of a panel of judges who asked about issues ranging from medical ethics to intellectual property law.

The pitches were decidedly biomedical, save for one team who found an application for nanotribological printing in the aeronautics industry. “Various teams used carbon nanopipette (CNP) technology to formulate exciting and innovative biomedical applications — ranging from detecting defective chromosomes in fertilized eggs to genetic cures for rare diseases, which have the potential for profit while doing good,” Prof. Bau said of this year’s pitches.


Team: Vikram Krishnamoorthy, C’20, W’20, George Pandya E’20, W’20
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes in a microfluidic system to manipulate cells in a more scalable and cheaper way

Cellview Sciences

Team: Henry Zhou, C’18, Ellen Naruse, W’18, Michael Lee, W’18
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes to create Chromosense, a testing procedure for IVF that will help discover chromosomal abnormalities in a safer, more accurate way.


Team: Sonali Chopra, WG’19, Kahini Shah, WG’19, Nikhil Raghuveera, WG’19
Proposal: Using nanotribological printing to create hydrophobic coatings for airplanes to make them more aerodynamic and reduce icing.

NanoXCell Therapeutics

Team: Daniel Lundgren, C’18, W’18, Patrick Lundgren, University of Oxford MsC’18, Shelby Wilkinson, C’18, W’18
Proposal: Using carbon nanopipettes to deliver gene therapies to patients with genetic skin diseases by transferring larger genes than viral vectors are able to accommodate.

“All of this year’s finalist pitches were very strong and would be worth pursuing beyond the competition, and we hope the student teams continue to do so,” said Prof. Saikat Chaudhuri, the Executive Director of the Mack Institute.

And the Winner Is…

Cellview Sciences took home this year’s Y-Prize. Composed of three seniors, Ellen Naruse, W’18, Michael Lee, W’18, and Henry Zhou, C’18, Cellview presented a device designed to reduce IVF miscarriage rates and lower the cost of genetic testing.

Coming from diverse academic backgrounds allowed the winning team to take a comprehensive approach to the competition. Henry, a biochemistry major, was in charge of coming up with a commercial product while Ellen, whose concentrations include business analytics and marketing, and Michael, who studies statistics, conducted market research and developed their business plan to make sure Henry’s idea was commercially feasible.

Y-Prize Winners Cellview Sciences
Henry Zhou, C’18, Ellen Naruse, W’18; and Michael Lee, W’18, of Cellview Sciences took home this year’s Y-Prize for innovative use of Dr. Bau’s carbon nanopipettes for testing fertilized embryos for chromosomal abnormalities that often lead to miscarriage.

“The Y-Prize has been deliberately interdisciplinary since its inception, which is part of what makes it so special. We truly believe that bringing diverse knowledge and perspectives to the table makes a team more innovative, and the competition results bear this out,” said Eckert. “Without exception, every winning team so far has been composed of students from different schools, or enrolled in interdisciplinary programs like Jerome Fisher Management & Technology.”

Their product, Chromosense, is a technology using Dr. Bau’s carbon nanopipettes for testing fertilized embryos for chromosomal abnormalities that often lead to miscarriage. Chromosense contains molecular beacons and a carbon nanopipette. It works by using the carbon nanopipette to inject molecular beacons, which can be designed to identify specific genomic sequences, into an embryo.

Once the molecular beacons are in the cell, they light up once they find the sequence they are designed to identify. This method can be used to count chromosomes and find mutated genes, thereby improving the health and viability of implanted embryos.

Cellview Science team members explain their technology at the Y-Prize Finale
Henry Zhou, C’18, and Michael Lee, W’18, explain the technology behind Chromosense at the Y-Prize Grand Finale. (Ellen Naruse, W’18, could not attend due to a case competition in New Zealand.)

What’s next for Cellview Sciences? The team is going to collaborate with their partners, including the main clinical collaborator, Main Line Fertility, to test their product and run a pilot program. And they will also compete in the semifinals of the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge.

– Elis Pill, C’19

Posted: February 21, 2018

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