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Bright minds cross-pollinate at WARF Discovery Challenge

The winners of the 2015 Discovery Challenge Research Competition
The winners of the 2015 Discovery Challenge Research Competition
Detecting cancer cells in real time. A safer nuclear reactor. New methods for vaccinating bats, predicting rain in Ethiopia and protecting the Internet from natural disasters.

Dubbed a “primordial soup of ideas,” the fourth annual Discovery Challenge is a research competition open to UW–Madison graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from all departments and fields of study.

Part I of the competition, the spring symposium, recently attracted more than 85 presenters from biochemistry to economics, pathology and mechanical engineering. The symposium featured two poster sessions and cash prizes awarded to the most creative, impactful and collaborative proposals.

Two prizes were awarded by faculty judges and WARF staff:

Darryl Wesener – A Protein of the Innate Human Immune System Recognizes Carbohydrates Utilized Exclusively by Microbes

Ritodhi Chakraborty – Climate and Agricultural Change at the Third Pole: The Impact of Change in Precipitation on Small Farmer Agriculture in the Himalayas

Two other proposals took home peer awards:

Ramakrishnan Durairajan – Internet Atlas: A Geographic Database of the Physical Internet

Jiehao Guan – Development of a Chemically Modified Gold Nanoparticle-Based Optical Sensor for Highly Sensitive and Selective Detection of Heavy Metal Contamination in Water Samples

“This is a great opportunity to present to people I wouldn’t normally talk to,” says Darryl Wesener, a graduate student in biochemistry who studies a class of proteins that help the body flag foreign cells. The research could one day be used to diagnose pathogens or deliver antibiotics.

“It forces me to articulate to a broad campus audience. It’s absolutely unique,” he says.

Discovery Challenge activities wrap up in the fall with the research award competition, which is open to original research ideas proposed by interdisciplinary teams.

Wesener is looking ahead to phase II of the competition.

“We will need to collaborate to finish this project,” he says. “No doubt about it.”

All spring symposium presenters and participants — not just the prize winners — will be eligible to compete for awards of up to $7,500 at the fall event.