Pesticide health worries could become a thing of the past thanks to UVA team's discovery

Two Biomedical Engineering students and their faculty advisor created AgroSpheres, an environmentally friendly agricultural product that degrades pesticides on the surface of produce.

For inventing a new product that promises to protect farm workers and consumers alike from pesticide residue on produce, a UVA Engineering-led team has won the national Collegiate Inventors Competition and a $10,000 prize.

AgroSpheres are spherical bio-particles sprayed on crops to degrade pesticides. The product and the start-up that will market it were developed by Ameer Shakeel, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major, Payam Pourtaheri, a 2016 biomedical engineering graduate, and Mark Kester, professor of biomedical engineering and pharmacology in the UVA School of Medicine and director of the NanoSTAR Institute.

The invention is in field testing and has earned significant recognition: first prize and $22,500 in the University-wide Entrepreneurship Cup last spring and $25,000 in equity-free grant funding during the Virginia Velocity Tour’s public pitch competition in September.

In the national competition held Friday, Nov. 4, in Alexandria, AgroSpheres was up against finalist teams from Columbia and Johns Hopkins universities and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Judges were from the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and AbbVie, an Illinois-based pharmaceutical research and development company.

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is an annual event that provides “a glimpse into the future of American innovation and emerging technological trends,” according to a competition release. “These college students have harnessed their inner inventor to make working prototypes that are impacting our world’s future.”

AgroSpheres is part of a growing community of entrepreneurs at UVA, supported by such programs as Works in Progress at UVA Engineering and the University-wide iLab. Last year, another UVA Engineering team, Contraline, made it to the finals of the Collegiate Inventors Competition.

Read more about Agrospheres here.

Read more about the Collegiate Inventors Competition here.