Bucks Team Makes National Science Foundation Finals for 2nd Year in a Row

The trio’s 'Simply Secure' Wi-Fi security product was a top-10 finalist in the NSF’s Community College Innovation Challenge.

For the second year in a row, Bucks County Community College Professor Christine Delahanty put together a trio of students whose proposal was named a top-10 finalist in the National Science Foundation’s Community College Innovation Challenge.

Delahanty (pictured, center) and students (left-right) Alexander White, Roshan Thomas and Nikolaus Bertino traveled to the NSF’s Innovation Boot Camp in Arlington, Va., June 12 to 15 to learn how to make real world changes by putting their proposals into action. They also attended a reception on Capitol Hill where they demonstrated their products to members of Congress.

The Bucks students, who dubbed themselves Team FringeHead, presented "Simply Secure," a low-cost, portable device that small businesses and consumers can use to connect securely to any wireless network, regardless of whether that network has been compromised.

The product simplifies the setup for advance security solutions, enabling anyone with little technical know-how to ensure they’re secure while connecting to public Wi-Fi access points, according to the team. The device uses a tiny computer called Raspberry Pi that is preconfigured using open-source security software.

The idea first came to Bertino, a Croydon resident who works for Gianti Fabrics, an international company whose representatives often access public wireless networks during business travel. The Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based company agreed to be the industry partner for the team.

“One of my roles at this company involves technology, such as securing their network and providing the tools necessary to allow the CEO to conduct business on the road or while he is traveling in countries that censor communications, such as China, to name one,” Bertino explained.

“If censorship is happening, it’s also likely the information traveling over the internet is being inspected, and the likelihood of a data breach is very probable,” Bertino added. “Hence, this device could possibly bypass censorship, which would allow day-to-day business to occur while abroad, thus, solving a business-related problem.” 

The team collaborated with student Jake Byer and the Arts Department to produce a video to submit to the contest, which can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/FringeHead.

“The bottom line is, you have the idea but you have to sell it,” said Delahanty, the team’s faculty mentor. “It’s the collaboration between the arts and engineering areas that’s really responsible for our success.”

At the end of the week, industry judges selected by the NSF and the American Association for Community Colleges, the contest’s co-sponsor, named winners. Del Mar College in Corpus Cristi, Texas, took first place for "EnteroSword," which uses tailor-made viruses to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Co., placed second for “Cyber Lab Learning Environment,” in which students can learn without fear in the safety of cyber labs.

"Even though we didn't win, we won," said Delahanty. "We had an incredible time at the NSF's Boot Camp. We learned so much and made some wonderful friends."

All three students plan to transfer from Bucks to continue to study computer science. Bertino has been accepted at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Thomas, who lives in Philadelphia, will transfer to Penn State Abington, and White, of Doylestown, will complete his bachelor’s degree at Neumont University in Salt Lake City.

The NSF says the Community College Innovation Challenge fosters development of crucial, science, technology, engineering and mathematics innovation skills by asking students to propose innovative, STEM-based solutions to perplexing, real-world problems.

Teams consisting of three to five community college students, a faculty mentor and a community or industry partner proposed solutions identified with one of three themes: Maker to Manufacturer, Energy & Environment, or Security Technologies.  All of the finalists submitted videos describing their proposals.

Last year, a Bucks team made it to the finals with a proposal for Wind Catcher Max, a new design for a wind turbine. Although they did not win the top prize, industry partner PECO presented the team with a $10,000 grant to continue to work on developing a prototype.

Computer science is one of 20 academic majors offered in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Dept. at Bucks. To learn more, visit www.bucks.edu/STEM, email stem@bucks.edu or call 215-968-8305.

Jean Dolan
Assistant Director, Public Relations