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Inside Stanford’s science fair on steroids: 10 brilliant student inventions

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On Wednesday, Stanford’s Arrillaga Alumni Center hosted around 100 teams of innovators in what might be the science fair to end all science fairs. For the students, it was a chance to flex their creative muscles, show off their creations, and maybe even walk away with the $50,000 grand prize. For onlookers, it was a glimpse into the future from a crop of young minds that have only just begun to shape it.

The Product Showcase event, as it’s called, was put together by BASES, the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students. BASES is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students and is perhaps the largest student group at the school. It’s also one of the largest (and oldest) student-run entrepreneurship organizations in the world. Founded in 1996, the group began with five Stanford grad students who figured that they needed to include a little business savvy with their engineering curriculum. BASES now has a sort of holistic view towards product creation, being an interdisciplinary team with members from business, engineering, law, medicine, humanities and other schools at Stanford.

Wednesday’s event is just one third of BASES’ $150,000 challenge, which includes the Entrepreneurial Challenge and the Social E-Challenge completed earlier this year. Unlike the other two competitions, which involved business plans, the focus of the showcase is easily surmised: Teams built products and showed them off. Fliers for the event dubbed it, “a science fair on steroids.”   Anyone was allowed to enter, though at least one member of a team had to be affiliated with the school. Besides the prize money, the event offered teams an arena to publicize their ideas and network with like-minded enthusiasts.

solar carCopy for the event touted notable Stanford names such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin, implying that any one of the innovators in the hall could be the next name dominating tech news. Mark Zuckerberg’s shadow also generated buzz, with good reason since social media projects took up a good portion of the booths.

Website ideas spanned the gamut from homework help to full sensory luxury shopping (modewalk.com); invite-only food communities to help you find the perfect chef for dinner parties (kitchit.com); Facebook interest organizing; a social search engine that mines relevant data from your network to answer your questions (qwhisper.com). TechCrunch favorite ChompOn, the niche group buying deals platform, also had a booth and ran out of business cards quickly.

There were plenty of apps as well, such as NeedRouter, an altruistic app which finds ways to connect people within communities such as dorms, to request and fulfill needs. MadPad allows people to sample everyday sounds and noises to create music — I walked in on the presenter making a song out of bicycle sounds. Other apps were simple in focus and design, like eggaduppa: a massive rock-paper-scissors game with 1,000 people, all playing for $1,000 as the prize.

Other ideas were designed to fight poverty, spur energy conservation, improved medical technology or manifested as just plain cool consumer items. Looking for the cream of the crop? Read on for our top 10 favorite student innovation’s from Stanford’s BASES conference.