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Celebrating Innovation And Tenacity Of Top Students At NCAA Schools

Aired April 7, 2013 - 14:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Next List. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This week, we have a special episode celebrating the innovation and tenacity of top students at NCAA schools around the country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one thing I learned out of this is that you can never underestimate a student.


GUPTA: THE NEXT LIST celebrates agents of change, and today, you're going to meet five undergraduate students who are pushing the boundaries of innovation and their own education.

A freshman at Dartmouth working on a cure for cancer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My end goal for everything that I'm trying to achieve is every hour I put into my work is an hour that goes into someone else's life to make it a little bit better.


GUPTA: Two seniors at USC leading the charge to preserve the artistic landscape in the city they love.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: L.A. is one of the top five cities for murals around the nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And wiping out the stories, you would then wipe out a people, and we count that.


GUPTA: A sophomore at Vanderbilt whose ingenious use of algae is so simple, nobody else thought to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not take a bioreactor and compress it in size and then place it on the exhaust pipe and capture carbon dioxide at its source?


GUPTA: And a senior at M.I.T. dedicated to finding revolutionary ways to power robots to explore the deepest, darkest corners of our world.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very hands on. I like going into the lab and just playing with things and seeing how can I make this work very quickly?


GUPTA: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta and this is THE NEXT LIST, an NCAA tournament special.


JENNIFER PAHLKA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CODE FOR AMERICA: Public are in such a important way that the character of a city comes out and makes people want to be there and want to interact with people, and that's what the two women here have done, is revive that dialogue about how we as citizens claim space, create value, and how we need to be talking with the public institutions about recognizing that value.

SABHA SALAMAH, USC SENIOR: Murals are more than just about one person. They're not just about the artist. They're about a story being told. They're about a community. Murals represent something so much greater than just the person. They represent a people.

KARINA CASILLAS, USC SENIOR: L.A. is one of the top five cities for murals around the nation. Murals teach about hope.

SALAMAH: We are "Mural Project L.A." We are two policy students and what we have been taught is how to solve problems.

CASILLAS: The main goal, I think, of our project was to have people be aware that they exist and the purpose that they serve for these communities.

SALAMAH: We've created a Facebook account and also created Twitter, but our main objective is actually through Instagram. We're trying to engage people, the average person. To go ahead, take the picture, and send it to us at "Mural Project, L.A." You just have to tag us. Through that, we're hoping to create this comprehensive geo reference map of the murals around Los Angeles.

CASILLAS: The class that we're a part of that started off our project was the Schwarzenegger Institute Class.

NANCY STAUDT, ACADEMIC DIRECTOR, SCHWARZENEGGER INSTITUTE AT USC: When I asked the students to come up with a project that involved post partisanship, what I expected was something more political. They were innovative because they thought let's think out of the box. If we want to get to know people, we want to know how they think, why not study their art, study their stories?

SALAMAH: The first step was becoming activists, really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The city of L.A. was considering an ordinance that would affect murals and a big component of the ordinance would involve a tax. So taxing murals would be a deterrent.

CASILLAS: We both got a chance to attend city hall and speak on behalf of the students and as citizens of Los Angeles. We got to bring to light our perspective on why murals needed to be kept in L.A.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CHAIRMAN, SCHWARZENEGGER INSTITUTE AT USC: Murals are disappearing in our neighborhoods and the city councils made a bad decision on the issue. So we want to teach our students at USC at the Schwarzenegger Institute that you have the power, and I'm so glad that they got the city council to change their minds and to go down a different direction and protect that art.

SALAMAH: In dealing with murals, it's been this idea that I can help those who are trying to tell a story that aren't being heard. Some people can't use language the way I use language, for example, and the way other people use language.

Some people speak through arts and some speak through other means. If art is your means of speaking of communicating, who am I to take that away from you and who is city council to take that away from you?

CASILLAS: This mural talks about the Latino culture, but I think with the depiction of the various leaders within the winds of change, personally, what draws my eye is this college student. She's kind of going in through the doorway of education, education being the gateway into many different aspects and walks of life.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Each one of those murals represents something. They're very important. One maybe promotes peace. Another one maybe promotes something. There are hundreds of issues, and it's such a creative way for artists to express themselves.

STAUDT: What they have done, which is so exciting, is they have taught a whole group of people about the importance of murals and taught a perspective that at least I have not seen.

SALAMAH: Murals, because they are public art, they're for everyone. They're not locked up behind a museum door, behind a gate where you have to pay admission or become a member.

CASILLAS: That's really the power behind the show, the project. Because these stories, they do depict the history that we don't always get to see or hear in the history books.

SALAMAH: And wiping out the stories, we would then wipe out a people, and we count that.




JAY KEASLING, SYNTHETIC BIOLOGIST: I'm very optimistic about green technologies. There are a lot of things that are need. We need better government policies. We need stable government policies. We also need the funding in order to scale these so that they can get out to the masses, but I'm optimistic about the future. I they think that if we can make these economically viable, people will choose them.

PARAM JOGGI, SOPHOMORE VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: You think with motor vehicles being around for about 100 years now, that someone would have thought to mitt gale global warming from the exhaust pipe.

It seems like it's mostly carbon dioxide. It creates most of the global warming and green house effect. We have created a device that sits on the tail pipe of a car. It only cost $8 to make and it's filled with basic chemicals and algae solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're cutting down Co2 emissions. The first thing everyone said is we want to throw all of these on all of our cars.

JOGGI: My name is Param Joggi. I'm the founder and CEO of the Ecovic and a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. This device itself does damage control. It's trying to prevent more carbon dioxide from being released into the environment.

The algae is basically using carbon dioxide as fuel. It is growing and thriving under the conditions, but it's using the carbon dioxide to fuel its generative source. What is released is both oxygen and water vapor.

DAN MORGAN, ACADEMIC ADVISOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: We get a lot of bright students at Vanderbilt, but he's really trying to create his own invention. He's trying to turn that into his own business, and that's pretty unique.

JOGGI: Ecovic is the company I founded this summer, the plan is to approach the big oil manufacturing companies, maybe car manufacturers.

MORGAN: The attraction of this is if you can come up with a way to control missions that is easy to install, doesn't affect the performance of the vehicle at all and would be sort of easy to maintain and deal with, is really a strong selling point.

JOGGI: There have been a few investors who have contacted me recently. I think first they're thrown back because most of the people in the field are 40, 50 years old. In the tech field, anyone, if you're 10 years old or 80 years old, if you have a good idea, people will put money in it. I kind of created a makeshift lab out of all of the materials I have gathered over the years. And it's pretty convenient because I can roll out of bed and start my work.

Usually, I hideaway all my materials, but they came in and they thought I was -- I had a drug lab in here. Just because they saw a bunch of hardware materials. So they assumed I was growing some sort of controlled substance. I'm not unless you count algae as a controlled substance.

AUSTEN SMITH, FRATERNITY BROTHER: He's a really great guy. People in our pledge class give him more grief, because everybody knows him, because we like to make fun of him about his hair. Saying put your hair down.

JOGGI: I've been a part of the brotherhood for about six months now, and it's been a great experience. A lot of the engineers have reached out to me to see if they could help me out. A lot of people doing business and marketing have asked if I need help with logo designs, business development, and business models.

SMITH: Everybody's plan B, basically, if you don't get a job out of college, can't go to grad school. It's going to be work for prong's company. It's everyone's backup plan around here.

JOGGI: What we're trying to do is create inexpensive, efficient, and completely disposable technology. My ultimate goal is to win a Nobel Prize.

MORGAN: I certainly hope he keeps finding ways to innovation and create and invent new things to help the entire world. That would be amazing.




ED LU, CHIEF OF INNOVATIVE APPLICATIONS AT LIQUID ROBOTIC: There are all kinds of different robots that are useful for different tasks. These ocean going robots are really important because a great majority of the ocean is currently unmapped and undiscovered.

These kinds of vehicles are important because they can go places that people can't go, and do things that people aren't good at, like being out there for long periods of time.

JEAN SACK, SENIOR MIT: Being here, it just provides you with the one constant. Everything is changing around you. Classes may or may not being going well, but you get up a quarter to 6:00, come down to the boat house, you know what you're going to do.

HOLLY METCALF, HEAD COACH, MIT WOMEN'S OPENWEIGHT CREW: Whatever passion they have for what they're doing across the way in their course work and their studies, that passion makes them really fast in a boat.

SACK: I wouldn't be here if I didn't grow. I was recruited by the crew coach and was so excited when I got in because it was going to give me a chance to row in college. As well as just it's the best engineering school in the world

My name is Jean Sack. I go to M.I.T. and I'm double majoring in mechanical engineering and music. I grew up in California. My parents built our house. We're completely off the grid. Our electricity came from solar cells. Our water came from rain water collections.

We didn't have internet. We didn't really have television. It's a sort of experience that makes you really appreciate when you come to college and then have things like Wi-Fi everywhere and heat, and unlimited hot water. And the sorts of things that most people sort of take for granted.

Growing up off the grid, I was always interested in renewable energy and being here with cutting edge technology, I feel like, is actually something I can make a difference in. I wasn't always naturally good at mechanical engineering.

I came in with a music background and sort of have learned over the first few years I was here how to be an engineer, how to think like an engineer. And one of the projects that just completely changed how I saw myself and how I think of engineering was Professor Doug Hart's 201 course last year.

PROFESSOR DOUGLAS HART, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MIT: The class is run like a start-up, students run everything and basically I simply act as the technical adviser. They were looking for someone to run the class, and everybody said you have to get Jean to do this.

Not only is she passionate and she has a lot of interests, but she's also tough as nails. My task to them was to develop an underwater power system that would extend the range to the point where a remus could be used to access every port in the world from U.S. military bases. So essentially, we have eliminated the use of million-dollar a day research.

SACK: One of the options that the students who were designing last year's project looked at was an aluminum water reaction. So instead of using the diesel engines that charge battery packs, we're taking advantage of the reactively of the aluminum with water.

HART: The one thing I've learned out of this is you can't underestimate a student. If you give them the chance, they're really amazing, and Jean has a way of pulling that out of people.

SACK: The aha moment was when Jackson came to me last year and was like, what if we use sodium chloride?

JACKSON CRANE, MIT STUDENT: We can actually get the oxygen for the fuel cells using the disassociation of sodium chloride, which is actually used very commonly in aviation and in submarines as an emergency oxygen supply. So we have kind of adapted this technology and put our own kind of spice on it to make it perfect for our applications and to create a very continuous steady supply of oxygen.

SACK: I am very hands on. I like rapid prototyping. I like going into the lab and just playing with things and seeing how can I make this work very quickly? I'm very on top of time. From being involved in crew, double majoring, you really learn time management. You're forced to. Otherwise, you can't make everything happen.

HART: I'm terrified of it. She's -- she's really good.

SACK: While I'm at M.I.T., crew and music both balance out everything else. I'm so much more confident than when I came in as a freshman. The experience of being able to manage the most brilliant people that you know is so humbling and so intimidating, and then when you succeed at it, incredibly rewarding.




JOSE GOMEZ-MARQUEZ, HEAD OF LITTLE DEVICES LAB MIT: It's going to be very hard to find another field in which people get told no all the time. And when somebody really young or out of left field who is not in the system comes up with an idea, it's going to be surrounded by really well qualified skeptics.

You need to find a group of mentors that will somehow believe in you and know that for a moment in time, your idea is in fact crazy. But that doesn't mean that you should just close up shop and stop what you're doing. You're part of a very long journey.

RILEY ENNIS, FOUNDER, IMMUDICON LLC: We all have cancer in us right now. Through the environment, genetics, it goes from off to on. What if we can stop that shift? What if I took one pill once a day to stop that from ever happening?

I founded Immudicon, my senior of high school. Immudicon LLC is an early stages life company, and the goal is really to understanding the relationship between the tumor in the immune system and finding technologies to empower the systems already inside of us to fight the cancer.

I'm Riley Ennis. I'm a sophomore at Dartmouth College and founder of Immudicon. My end goal for everything that I'm trying to achieve is every hour I put into my work is an hour that goes into someone else's life to make it a little bit better.

I started with me watching over an expert in horseshoe crabs. I'm looking for bacteria passage of pharmaceutical products. They went into the mechanism of how that worked and it's a name tag that can bind to any bacteria and tell the body to destroy it, I said that's cool. So you're pretty much tagging things and your body can look at that and destroy it. It's very universal. It's very simple. As I'm sitting in the University of Pennsylvania, I read an article on cancer therapy. I said they're trying to tag the cancer, teach the body to recognize it.

Our body seems to have some natural mechanism to destroy the cancer, so why not use that? Why use chemicals? Ultimately, what that would do is how can we take this horse crab system, find something similar in humans that you can implement to target to destroy the cancer.

The power point on this mechanism, I said maybe this will work. I literally have no idea, but it seems like the piece will fit together. I was at Thomas Jefferson High School at the time. I went to my teacher and said, you have a lab, I know we have student research.

We should try this. I was so excited. I put so much time into it and she completely flat out was just like, no You don't have money. You can't use mice. This doesn't really make sense. I don't think it's going to work. You can't do this and I just remember turning around, walking out of her office and just being completely crushed.

ERRIK ANDERSON, CEO, CO-FOUNDER, ADIMAB: One of the challenges that Riley is going to face in sort of being a little young and enthusiastic, and everything is possible, is he will be faced with failures along the way.

ENNIS: I was very close to just giving up.

ANDERSON: It's a very long path to answer some of these important scientific questions and I think it suggests stay enthusiastic about why he originally started.

ENNIS: And the next step was, we can't use mice. Maybe I can use invertebrates. I'm allowed to do that. That's what started off working with the starfish and octopods. I developed the vaccine, built the concept in the lab at my high school, kept it frozen, brought it home, injected it into these things and brought it to Georgetown for imaging.

I just wanted to prove this would launch an immune response. The moment the red dot came up, we saw the first image. I remember being shocked that I could have looked at a graduate textbook, trying to understand this, and build something that who knows what it's going to lead to, but just that first initial experiment was so powerful for me.

PHILIP FERNEAU, ADJUNCT ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: Riley, despite his youth, is an outlier in a very positive way. His level of focus and conviction and demonstrable perseverance, leads to having all of the social skills to rally supporters. You wouldn't want to bet against him. In fact, I would love to bet on him. ENNIS: I can't say for certain from a sequence standpoint this is going to be the biggest next drug, it's going to cure all cancer, but for me it's what I'm learning through the process and who I'm getting to meet and just enjoying each step along the way helping me build my perspective of health care and biotech.

And I'm confident that one day I'll find that small area where I can make that impact and bring together all of these technologies and companies that I'm working with or working for to have that social impact.


GUPTA: Param, Jean, Riley, Sabha, and Karina, they led the life of dorms, dining halls and classes, but they're also pushing themselves well beyond that. When they do, they move us all forward. That's what earns them all spots on THE NEXT LIST. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.