Illinois Institute of Technology Announces Three Finalists for $1 Million Nayar Prize

Illinois Institute of Technology, a premier global technological university located in Chicago, announces three finalists for its first Nayar Prize, a $1 million award to develop breakthrough projects that produce meaningful results with a societal impact.

The Nayar Family Foundation created the prize for students, faculty, and staff at Illinois Tech to recognize their extraordinary problem-solving capabilities and help “move the needle” toward significant innovations to impact society, the economy, and our environment.

“The Nayar Prize elicited extraordinary entries—emblematic of a school steeped in research, critical and creative inquiry, and entrepreneurship,” said Frances Bronet, provost. “Illinois Tech’s innovative DNA was omnipresent throughout the entries. The winners are stellar and represent important forays into solving contemporary societal challenges through technological and social analysis with clear action plans for pilots and implementation.”

The three finalists are developing:

  • ADEPT Cancer Imager: Invented by Kenneth Tichauer, a “paired-agent molecular imaging” system aims to improve cancer survival rates by spatially mapping the variable characteristics of cancers at the cellular level. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer remain a huge challenge in part because cancer traits vary between and within individuals; despite advances, cancer is responsible for more than 25 percent of deaths in the U.S., and the death rate has not dropped significantly in the past decades. This new imaging system will help doctors identify more aggressive forms of cancer, so the proper strategy for treatment can be determined at the earliest stages of the disease, as well as effective drugs designed to handle disease variability. Team members Tichauer (biomedical engineering), Jovan Brankov (electrical and computer engineering), and Rajendra Mehta (biology) are considered leaders in imaging and drug development.
  • Game Development for Early Language Acquisition in High-Risk Children: Recent revised guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that media can benefit children after the age of 2. To close the gap between inequalities in early childhood language skills, which can have a lasting impact on an individual’s academic and career success, this team is developing a research-driven, high-impact interactive game for children between the ages of 2 and 3 years old. The game will engage caregivers and children through playful experiences that encourage high-quality interaction and participation. Team members Carly Kocurek (digital humanities), Jennifer Miller (psychology), Cynthia Hood (computer science), and Matt Bauer (linguistics) are experienced leaders in game development, assessment, and language learning.
  • Driverless City Project: As cities around the world consider opportunities for driverless cars, the Driverless City Project will investigate the elements that will make change possible. It will develop social scenarios, technical solutions, infrastructure prototypes, and model urban codes to transform streets into twenty-first century human infrastructure. These elements will be developed into smart driving control systems, design guidelines for transportation agencies, municipal codes, and infrastructure prototypes. The team of Marshall Brown (architecture), Lili Du (transportation engineering), Laura Forlano (design), Jack Guthman (architecture), and Ron Henderson (landscape architecture) includes thought leaders in urban design, transportation engineering, smart cities, and planning law.

The three finalists will each be granted $100,000 to spend within a year to show significant progress toward a solution for the problem they are investigating. In year two, the team that shows the most promise will receive an additional $200,000 to continue its work over the next two years. Finally, if that team continues to meet the metrics and benchmarks established by the steering committee, it will be awarded $500,000.

The Nayar Prize is funded by distinguished Illinois Tech alumnus Madhavan Nayar and the Nayar Family Foundation. Madhavan Nayar is the founder of a company that is a pioneer in information integrity software.