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Environmentally friendly plasma, an AI detector and a moving photon counter win UMD Invention Awards

The university’s annual showcase honors researchers and scientists who create tools that aim to help society move forward.

The overall winners at the Invention of the Year awards at the University of Maryland. (Mike Morgan/University of Maryland)

A plasma technology project and an AI detection tool were among the winners at the 2024 edition of the University of Maryland’s prestigious Invention of the Year Awards.

Since 1987, the university has honored more than 100 inventions and the creators behind them at its yearly awards ceremony, which spotlights creations that address pressing issues, including an ovarian cancer detection tool and an all-natural plastic substitute. 

The awards were presented with UM Ventures — a local initiative at the UMD campuses in College Park and Baltimore that works to get products of research out into the world for use. It does this mainly through licensing inventions, mostly for faculty and graduate students at UMD. 

UM Ventures selects the three finalists for each category of the awards, reviewing what inventions have made their way through the office in the past year. It considers the status of the technology, commercial potential and the possible benefit to society, according to Felicia Metz, the org’s associate director. Then, the winners are selected by a panel of judges, which is a mixture of people affiliated and not affiliated with the university. 

“We try to highlight things that we think have a lot of potential and are representative of the great work that our researchers are doing,” Metz told Technical.ly. 

A plasma innovation nabbed the overall prize and the Physical Sciences Invention of the Year. The plasma creation process, developed by researchers out of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is powered by renewable energy. This makes it environmentally friendly and cost-efficient. 

In the Life Sciences category, a prostate diagnostic and treatment tool won Invention of the Year. It uses gene therapy and drugs that stop the growth and spread of cancer cells, and it’s been shown to treat prostate cancer that’s resistant to other therapies. 

An AI detection project won the Information Sciences Invention of the Year. Researchers at UMD developed the “binoculars” method, which detects when text has been written by large language models. It’s precise, too, with a 90% accuracy rate and .01% false positive rate. 

In the Quantum category, several scientists out of UMD and the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed a tool that counts the number of photons without limitations and can count moving photons, both new developments. This invention can be used in quantum information processing, quantum cybersecurity and DNA sequencing.

These awards are a way to highlight the research coming out of the college, Metz said. It also encourages people, especially grad students, to keep innovating. 

“I know the faculty who are recognized are very appreciative,” Metz told Technical.ly. “I’ve been to people’s offices and they have their plaques and pictures up from the events from 20 years ago, which is always nice to see.”

Companies: University of Maryland

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