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Four Portland State University engineering students win top national prize for design
Author: Suzanne Pardington, University Communications
Posted: May 8, 2012

A team of four electrical engineering students from Portland State University has won first place in the inaugural Cornell Cup USA, presented by Intel, competition for their design of a prescription drug identification device. 

Thang Duy Vo, Anh Viet Ngo, Hoa Van Nguyen and Hung Minh Nguyen, seniors who came to PSU through the Intel Vietnam Scholars Program, successfully challenged 23 other finalist teams from other top national engineering schools such as UC Berkeley and MIT to win the $10,000 top prize May 5 at Walt Disney World in Florida. 

“We are filled with pride in this hard-won prize in a first-class competition,” said Renjeng Su, dean of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. “It shows that the Maseeh College is a place where students can ignite their imaginations and become top achievers."

Cornell Cup USA, presented by Intel, is a new college-level competition that invites students to design and construct innovative applications of embedded technology, computer systems built for specific tasks. The PSU team, which was not identified as affiliated with Intel, created a device to instantly identify an image of a pill from a database of 16,000 prescription drugs and provide the latest detailed information about it. The device is designed for busy emergency rooms and medical offices, where patients often don’t know the names of the drugs they are taking.

“We still cannot believe that we won the competition,” Hung Minh Nguyen said. “Even being selected as a finalist for this competition is a great accomplishment, and we are so proud that we won the grand prize. This was not only a competition but also a chance for us to meet with other great students and learn new things.”

The team worked extremely hard, said Professor Mark Faust, who advised the team with Professor Marek Perkowski. The students designed three separate printed circuit boards, in addition to a mechanical housing and extensive software including image-processing algorithms, database and network communications for the device. They also overcame language issues to deliver a strong presentation to the judges, he said. 

“The prize validates project-based learning and education,” Faust said. “None of them knew anything about image processing when they started, and that was a big component of the design. In the end that’s what engineers do anyway. The reason we learn these subjects is so that we can build things.” 

The four students are part of a group of 24 Intel Vietnam Scholars who received two-year scholarships to study engineering or supply and logistics management at PSU, sponsored by Intel.

“This competition is such a great way for students to gain hands on experience with developing and making their own designs from scratch,” said Kimberly Sills, manager of the University Programs Office of Intel Labs. “It reinforces Intel’s commitment to experiential learning throughout all of education. The final competition was a tribute to the hard work and excellence of every student team.”