Could These College Inventors Tackle the Global Pesticide Problem?

Could These College Inventors Tackle the Global Pesticide Problem?

Developed by a team of University of Virgnia students, AgroSpheres break down pesticide residues on crops hours after they are applied


Payam Pourtaheri and Ameer Shakeel enjoy casual conversation with Radia Perlman, 2016 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee during the Meet the Experts session at 2016’s Collegiate Inventors Competition. (USPTO)

By Maya Wei-Haas –

Up on stage, Elizabeth Dougherty opened the folded paper, the foil seal flickering in the lights. “And the winner is,” she paused for dramatic effect, “from the University of Virginia….”

But nothing more could be heard, whoops and cheers obscured her words. Fists were pumped in the air, tears shed.

This triumphant moment belonged to a team of undergraduates and their adviser, participating in the Collegiate Inventors Competition at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Dougherty, the USPTO’s director of inventor education, outreach and recognition, and others in attendance honored Ameer Shakeel and Payam Pourtaheri for their group’s revolutionary product AgroSpheres, created with a goal of eliminating the damaging side effects of pesticides worldwide.

The duo stepped up on stage grinning unabashedly as they donned the heavy gold medals given to them as the overall winners in the competition’s undergraduate division. This highly competitive, nationwide contest encourages “innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity,” showcasing cutting-edge, student-led projects from colleges and universities across the country. (USPTO, which partners with to support stories on innovation at the Smithsonian Institution and beyond, is also a sponsor of the competition.) In addition to the hardware, the first place winners take home $10,000 with an additional $2,000 for their adviser. Read more.

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