What are the best European inventions of 2016? A look at the eleventh edition of the European Inventor Awards organised by the European Patent Office.
It is called SAMBA and it is an instant blood diagnostic test providing low-cost, fast and easy-to-read results and allowing for on-the-spot detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Chlamydia.
This is the invention that allowed British blood researcher Helen Lee to win one of the five European Inventor Awards 2016, in the Popular Prize category.
Launched by the European Patent Office in 2006, the Award has come to its eleventh edition, which was held on June 9th, 2016 at the MEO Arena in Lisbon, Portugal.
“I called it SAMBA Test because engineers like to dance, but it is also a name that people like, and sticks in the head,” says Ms. Lee, gifted with a delicate yet determined look. A frivolous name for an invention already in use in many Sub-Saharan African countries, where it helps tracking some of the world’s deadliest diseases by facilitating the diagnosis and anticipating access to care for thousands of people.
Together with Lee, the most voted finalist with 64% of the 56,000 opinions expressed online, the European Inventor Award in the SMEs category went to the Danish multidisciplinary team, formed by Tue Johannessen, Ulrich Quaade, Claus Hviid Christensen and Jens Kehlet Nørskov, who created a system to store ammonia that, through its solidification, is capable of reducing by 99% the emission of nitrogen monoxide from diesel engines, which causes over 75,000 deaths in Europe every year.
The Award in the Research category went to the French neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid, who invented a system for treating Parkinson’s symptoms, while the one in the Industry category was won by the Germans Bernhard Gleich and Jürgen Weizenecker, inventors of a scheme for medical analysis based on magnetic particles.
The American engineer Robert Langer from MIT won the Non-European Countries category with its targeted anti-cancer medicines, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to the German-Dutch engineer Anton van Zanten, who created the electronic stability system for cars that has been saving thousands of lives over the last few years.
“Today’s award ceremony – said EPO President Benoît Battistelli – is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who, through their inventions, advance the state of the art for all of us.”
The contest involved five winners and fifteen finalists, who made it to the end of a selection that involved 400 inventions registered by the European Patent Office.
“We select the best innovations in the medicine, environment, social and industry field,” explains Mario Polegato, CEO of Geox and Chairman of the Jury of the European Inventor Award, “and we do so to stimulate the matter of the patent and convey the message that through an idea we can build a both economic and social fortune.”
“The first criteria we use – continues Polegato – is the originality of the innovation, then we assess how it can help people’s lives, not only in medicine field, but also in industry and environment. Finally, we try to determine what impact the innovation will have in the future.”
An innovation that could be part of our lives is the paper transistor, conceived by a couple of Portuguese scientists, Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins, finalists yet not winners in the Research category of this year’s edition of the Award.
“The paper transistor is simple and low-cost, a thousand times less expensive than silicon,” says Ms. Fortunato, the real inventor of the couple.
“We realize it with a printer whose toner has been replaced by the zinc oxide, a transparent and edible product that can be found in sunscreens as well as creams for children.”
The paper, being the insulating base of the transistor, passes in the printer, which imprints the zinc oxide that works both as conductor and semiconductor.
“We have already signed contracts with packaging companies. It is a perfect invention for the electronics of things, to create boxes of medicines that blow a whistle if you do not take a pill at the scheduled day and time, to build food containers that change colour if the product has gone bad, even before the due date, or print newspapers with graphical charts that move like in a video. Since these transistors can be digested, they might be part of the electronics of people in the future as well.” This invention did not win today, but it may have a brilliant future ahead of it.