For PhD student Anastasia Georgiou, it started with a click of a mouse and ended in the woods of Germany, at the home of Merck KGaA, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical corporations. In between, though, she had to find a way to stand out in a field of more than 3,000 other people who had the same goal: being selected to compete in the Merck KGaA Innovation Cup in Darmstadt, Germany, about 30 minutes south of Frankfurt.
"The opportunity that came to me by email jumped out as a good way to apply the machine learning and innovation principles I am gaining in my doctoral studies to a challenge in the real world. As it turned out, I was able to leverage that to propose an idea for Team Smart Manufacturing in my application, and it worked. I was selected." said Georgiou, a third-year PhD student in the Whiting School of Engineering's Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Georgiou was one of 45 graduate students chosen to attend a weeklong expenses-paid summer camp that offered participants the opportunity to attend symposiums, meet other graduate students from around the globe, and network with pharmaceutical industry professionals. The culmination of the experience was the actual Innovation Cup competition, in which seven teams formed by the students were challenged to develop a concept and business plan. The event was held in mid-June.
Georgiou's team came in first—taking home a €20,000 prize (approximately $22,000).
"The actual experience was amazing because you went into the camp not knowing anybody except for a Zoom call with the team beforehand," said Georgiou. "The team was from all over the world, and I don't know how but we clicked. We were from different backgrounds in terms of what we studied, and that ended up playing to our advantage."
Her team, comprising students studying in the U.S., England, and Germany, claimed the top prize with their project, "ESGenius: Smart Solutions for a Better World." Georgiou described it as a tool that uses artificial intelligence to help Merck KGaA better understand and improve its environmental, social and governance performance throughout all its business operations. However, Georgiou is prohibited from sharing specifics about the tool because the company plans to implement the concept.
Georgiou and her team were thrilled about winning the competition's cash prize, but what she valued most was how the experience expanded her understanding of the engineering industry as a whole.
"I have a background in the energy industry," said Georgiou, who studies in the Kevrekidis Lab. "My number one reason for doing this was to check out the pharma industry. I learned a lot of pharma terms I never would have otherwise."
Manav Jain, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, also attended the summer camp and competed in the Innovation Cup.
Watch a video about the Innovation Cup here.