Making Innovation Happen: Young Georgian Inventors at NASA

I think their chances are excellent, I definitely think they would have been in the running to be a winner here- Jack Griem tells me of Georgian high school innovator team Solar.

Griem is President of the Board at the Conrad Foundation. Established in 2008, the Conrad Foundation honors the legacy of Apollo 12 astronaut, Charles “Pete” Conrad, and his four-decade passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Solar is a team of four male teenage innovators from a Tbilisi-based Georgian-British-Spanish school. We are in Titusville, Florida, at the Kennedy NASA Space Center, where the Conrad Foundation is hosting the Conrad Innovation Summit. A few dozen students all the way from Texas, USA to Queensland, Australia are here presenting their technological innovations in an attempt to convince subject scientists of the originality and viability of their inventions.

Team Solar is the second team from Georgia to make it to the Conrad Summit. Dressed in business suits, black ties and snow-white shirts, the four young men make an ambassadorial team- they are not competing with their international counterparts; they are ambassadors, presenting Georgia at the world-renowned space center.

“Hi, we are from Georgia…,” says Giorgi Margiani, he pauses for couple of seconds and adds: “but not from Georgia that came to your minds. We are from the country Georgia,” then he clicks a remote controller, and a new slide shows up on the wide screen – a map of Georgia.

Georgian team Solar is the winner of the Millennium Innovations Award competition - a nationwide Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) competition organized by the Millennium Challenge Account – Georgia. Funded by the US Government, this award aims to encourage innovative ideas and projects among Georgian youth.

For the next 15 minutes Giorgi Margiani, Beka Mikadze, Giorgi Nioradze and Vakhtang Kontridze speak in turns, in fast English and highly-technical language. They are passionately presenting a project on increasing solar cell sufficiency.

Even though these high-schoolers have participated in a number of competitions both locally and internationally, there are two teachers in the audience, anxious and cheering for their students.

“I was nervous, but now I’m proud- they made us proud yet again,” says Lela Bochoidze, school principle, after the presentation.

Pride is shared by school founder Nona Bolkvadze: “Soon after the competition was announced we contacted the Georgian Technical University and Professor Temur Chichua kindly agreed to mentor our students. They worked day and night constructing this technology and made it all the way to the NASA space center,” she says.

The presentation was followed by intense applause and numerous appraisals. One from Griem himself: “The Georgian team showed a video demonstrating the level of really sophisticated physical work that they did, building a very interesting prototype, testing that prototype and gathering the necessary data.”

I asked the relieved students to explain their innovation to, what we journalists call the “common reader.”

Giorgi Margiani begins: “We presented a project on increasing solar cell sufficiency and its effectiveness. Our key is that we modify silicon placed on the surface that helps in the redistribution of light.”

Giorgi Nioradze believes their project is an important one, “as we will make electro-energy more accessible and cheaper than it currently is.”

Apart from several months’ hard work, there is something else these students share – belief in their project.

For Beka Mikadze, the project is unique. “Our method of modernizing solar cells is unique, it has no analogue on any market in the world.”

Vakhtang Kontridze goes further, saying he would definitely invest, if he could: “Because we can make electricity accessible and sufficient for many more families.”

As a matter of fact, it is not only inventors who praise the project. Nancy Conrad, who created the Conrad Foundation in 2008 to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities, says Georgia had a “fantastic team” at the summit: “Their solar project is amazing. That 3% saving on solar energy through their invention is huge.”

As an ambassadorial team, Solar was not judged by subject experts, but now they know what it takes to win the Conrad Competition: “The criteria for winners is that their product has to be unique, commercially viable, the engineering has to be feasible and somebody needs to want it – it’s an intersection of feasibility, desirability and viability. And when those three things intersect, that’s when innovation happens,” says Nancy.

“At the end of the day what it’s really about is young minds understanding how to think,” she adds.

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Nana Sajaia

02 May 2016 17:05