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James Madison University
Invent for the Planet participants at James Madison University in Virginia. | Image: James Madison University

For 48 hours, college students from over 26 universities around the world joined Texas A&M University virtually to tackle some of the most challenging issues facing the planet today. The top five teams from the first round of Invent for the Planet have been selected by a team of external judges and will compete at Texas A&M on April 23 and 24.

James Madison University
James Madison University student participants. | Image: James Madison University

SIPS, a team from James Madison University in Virginia, developed a solution for hail damage to airplane wings. The team drew inspiration from puffer fish, a species that can inflate itself into the shape of a ball very quickly in order to evade predators. Using compressible foam like that found in a camping mattress, the students designed a prototype that would quickly inflate to protect the most vulnerable parts of an airplane wing. SIPS was able to present their design to Airbus and receive industry feedback.

The SIPS team includes Charles Seaver, Dean Woodwell and Mark Livingston.

Q: What has been the most memorable experience?
The most memorable experience was watching the live stream of all the universities working simultaneously on important issues. It influenced me to work hard during the event. - Charles Seaver

Q: Did anything surprise you or come out of the experience that was unexpected?
My most surprising experience was making our final prototype on the last day and realizing our idea actually worked and worked well. The most exciting part for me though was learning on Monday that we had placed in the top 5 and will get to go to Texas. I knew we had a strong idea but I never thought we would make it to Texas. I am amazed and excited. - Dean Woodwell

Q: Why did you pick your need statement?
It was a subject I thought was intriguing and could allow for physical prototyping to be done. Once I saw others were interested, I knew it was the one to pursue.  - Mark Livingston

Their next plan of action is to listen to feedback after the competition to further evaluate their idea, pursue product testing and research ways to seal the package and maintain the vacuum.