FARGO-Whether it's an automated way to get out of awkward situations or a pair of costume wings that can flap like the real thing, North Dakota State University students have plenty of ideas.

Students got a chance to make their pitches Monday, Jan. 30, as part of the eighth annual NDSU Innovation Challenge that offers top prizes of $5,000 for the winners of four categories of competition: agriculture, service, social innovation and products.

Innovation Challenge helps students of all ages and academic backgrounds think about problems in a new way, said Callie Klinkmueller, communications and program coordinator of the NDSU Research and Technology Park, which organizes the event.

"It's hard to teach innovation in a classroom, and so this is a great opportunity for hands-on learning and project-based learning," she said.

About 65 teams started out the competition last fall. Of those, 35 teams advanced to Monday's semifinals where they used visual aids and informal presentations to try to make it to the Feb. 23 final round that will decide this year's winners.

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A bonus $1,000 People's Choice Award also will be given out at the semifinal round from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday in the NDSU Memorial Union Great Plains Ballroom.

New solutions

Jessie Lee competed in the 2016 challenge, but she thought her idea could benefit from some proper marketing, so the junior from New London, Minn., tapped marketing graduate student David Shaum to help.

Her idea? Adding motion to costume wings that can flap and flutter. She calls it Take Wing, and she said prize money could help her launch her product.

"They're lacking the magic that they deserve, so we just added motion," she said of costume wings, which are a popular item for angel, butterfly and fairy costumes.

Lee 3D-printed frames for wings that can flap at random or on command. A battery-powered motor box is small enough to fit under a costume, and future versions could even work with a heartbeat sensor to flap the wings faster if a person's heart rate increases.

Raquib Hasan and Andrew Vetter, meanwhile, are pursuing a possible solution to antibiotic-resistant infections, which are expected to kill more people than cancer by 2050.

The problem, said Hasan, a second-year Ph.D. pharmaceutical sciences student, is that developing a new antibiotic can cost more than $2 billion and take a decade or more. Drug companies also get low profits from antibiotics-that's why so few new ones have been approved recently.

Hasan and Vetter, a freshman computer engineering major, hope to build a prototype of new lab equipment that would automate testing and help companies focus on promising drugs.

With the use of an algorithm, automated data collection and the ability to determine if an experiment will fail or not, they said their device could reduce the time and cost of development.

"We're trying to shift the paradigm to a more educated scientific process," Hasan said.

Annise Montplaisir and Kelsey Dirks came up with an idea for a new app they've dubbed "The Call."

The app's emergency mode would sync to a user's wearable fitness tracker to monitor heart rate. If it detected a spike, it could alert a pre-designated contact about the wearer's current location. A "diversion" mode could help get users out of socially uncomfortable situations, such as a man at a bar asking to buy a drink for an uninterested woman.

"Instead of saying no and risking encountering that backlash, you can trigger a call to your own phone within the app," Dirks said, giving the user a way of excusing themselves from the situation.