Youth Perspectives

4 award-winning young inventors who are changing the world

To encourage the next generation of brilliant minds, the inaugural Young Inventors Prize was held for the first time in June to recognize the achievements of pioneers who are aged under 30.

To encourage the next generation of brilliant minds, the inaugural Young Inventors Prize was held for the first time in June to recognize the achievements of pioneers who are aged under 30. Image: Unsplash/Nasa

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Youth Perspectives

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  • The inaugural Young Inventors Prize was held for the first time in June to recognize the achievements of inventors under the age of 30.
  • The winning inventions were an AI-enabled app that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease early, and an advanced waste management system.
  • It was part of the annual European Inventor Award which recognizes pioneering work that contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Inventors and their inventions have constantly changed the way we live. An inventor in China gave us the compass for navigation, another in Germany invented the printing press and several creative minds were involved in coming up with the electric light bulb. The course of history is shaped by such inventions and the future will continue to be shaped by them, too.

Recognizing inventors and their innovations

Launched by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2006, the annual European Inventor Award aims to celebrate the best and most innovative technological breakthroughs. The EPO hopes the event also helps to encourage innovation and protect ideas.

This year’s winners were selected from a pool of hundreds of individuals who had contributed to innovation in a range of fields. These included medical technology, cancer research, energy storage, biotechnology, waste management and menstrual hygiene.

The winners of the European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize 2022. Young Inventors award 2022
The winners of the European Inventor Award and Young Inventors Prize at the award ceremony on 21 June, 2022. Image: European Patent Office

Celebrating brilliant young minds with the inaugural Young Inventors Prize

To encourage the next generation of brilliant minds, the inaugural Young Inventors Prize was held for the first time in June to recognize the achievements of pioneers who are aged under 30. It rewards those who are working towards solutions for sustainability-related problems linked to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These range from climate action and making cities greener, to the fight for quality education for all and eliminating hunger.

Four young inventors made the final of the inaugural event.

AI-powered app to detect Parkinson’s disease

Erin Smith from the United States came in joint first place with her invention of an AI-powered app that enables the early detection of Parkinson’s disease by recording facial expressions. It can detect the disease with 95% accuracy 5 to 10 years before diagnosis, based on traditional motor symptoms. Smith and her team have also built an inclusive dataset which enables detection across race and gender.

Photo of Erin Smith, joint winner of the Young Inventors Prize 2022.
Erin Smith, joint winner of the Young Inventors Prize 2022. Image: European Patent Office

AI-driven waste management

Victor Dewulf from Belgium and Peter Hedley from the UK also walked away with the joint first Young Inventors Prize. The pair of young inventors have developed an AI-driven waste recognition and sorting system that improves recycling processes. Algorithms enable sorting with much higher accuracy than conventional technology and can distinguish between food-grade and non-food-grade plastics. Their invention Recycleye enables more waste to be recycled and reduces the production and consumption of carbon-intensive materials.

Photo of Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley, joint winners of the Young Inventors Prize 2022.
Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley, joint winners of the Young Inventors Prize 2022. Image: European Patent Office

Biodegradable sanitary products to combat period poverty

Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves from Brazil was the Young Inventors Prize runner-up. She has developed biodegradable sanitary products for disadvantaged groups in her country using harvest waste. Initially, Gonçalves designed a toilet paper-style roller that unspools absorbent sheets which can be rolled into tampons. Then she developed another product that can either be used as a sanitary pad or converted into two tampons. The products are sustainable and free to those who cannot afford them.

Photo of Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves, runner-up of the Young Inventors Prize 2022.
Rafaella de Bona Gonçalves, runner-up of the Young Inventors Prize 2022. Image: European Patent Office

EPO President António Campinos said of the finalists: “Their ingenuity and perseverance are an inspiration for all of us, and underline the vital role that the next generation of innovators will play in building a more sustainable world”.

European Inventor Award winners

Winning inventions in other event categories included the use of plants to decontaminate polluted soil, created by Claude Grison from France.

Estonian scientists Jaan Leis, Mati Arulepp and Anti Perkson invented a material called curved graphene for use in ultracapacitors, which provide long-lasting energy sources for industry and electric cars.

Spanish professor Elena García Armada developed an adaptable robotic exoskeleton for children who use wheelchairs, which could extend their life expectancy. Armada won the Popular Prize, which was voted for by the public from 13 finalists.

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A joint Swiss-French team led by Madiha Derouazi and Elodie Belnoue pioneered a new medical platform to make cancer vaccines that help the immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells.

And the Lifetime Achievement award was given to Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó, who developed a way to modify messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) so it can be safely used in the human body. This will enable its use in vaccines against diseases such as COVID-19, as well as potential therapies for cancer and heart disease.

Taking innovation to the next level

Encouraging innovation is at the forefront of the World Economic Forum’s Uplink platform, which aims to provide the expert help that entrepreneurs need to take their inventions to the next level. Since its launch in early 2020, Uplink has identified more than 260 individuals with highly promising solutions and is supporting their growth and helping them scale their businesses.

“Initiatives shouldn't just come from enlightened business leaders or governments,” said Forum founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. “We have to engage people. They have ideas. We have to give them the means to translate their ideas into action."

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