Corn and soybean contest brings out competitive spirit
By Eric Sarul
Photo by Eric Sarul
Diezhang Wu (left), a junior food science major from Loudi, China, and Shuai Wang, a junior agricultural and biological engineering major from Weifang, China, created Stove Cover, a corn-based product that prevents grease from building up on stoves.
Shuai Wang's hometown of Weifang in northern China is regarded as the birthplace of the kite. Every year, Weifang is home to an international kite-making competition.
As a kid, Wang remembers picnics with his parents in the countryside to watch soaring kites. By the time he was in high school, he was participating in the kite-making contest. So when he came to Purdue, he was naturally excited to read about another contest: the Student Soybean and Corn Product Innovation Competitions.
"My competitive spirit is part of who I am," said Wang, a junior agricultural and biological engineering major.
Wang teamed up with Diezhang Wu, a junior food science major from Loudi (in Hunan Province, China), to compete in the annual contest that challenges students to develop new products from corn and soybeans.
Wang and Wu developed Stove Cover, a corn-based spray that prevents grease from building up on stovetop surfaces, hoods and surrounding cabinets. "As soon as you finish cooking, the film can be wiped by a wet rag," Wu said. "I thought it was a good idea."
But their good idea didn't come right away. When they first started planning a product, Wang and Wu thought they'd develop a lip balm or antimicrobial towel. Those ideas didn't pan out. But then Wang had an inspiration and thought of Stove Cover. "I was just tired of cleaning the stove!" Wang said.
They searched a patent database to make sure their product was original, and then spent a month in the lab developing their product. The results of their marketing, packaging and testing came down to the contest banquet in March.
Wang and Wu didn't win the $20,000 prize for corn products. But they did take home the third prize of $7,500 and a new netbook computer. Second prize was $10,000.
That went to a team that produced Impact Flooring, a substance that makes hardwood floors more durable. The top soybean product was Soytabs, a pharmaceutical substance that helps bind pills together.
Although they didn't win, Wang and Wu were grateful for the experience. "I learned a lot about communication and cooperation in this contest," Wu said.
That was important, considering the two worked together on the project for five months. They also learned about staying competitive. "You've got to keep trying until the very end," Wang said. "You will win yourself."
Although the competition made them closer, Wang and Wu were already friends before coming to Purdue. They are part of a distance-learning program in which they split their education between Purdue and China Agricultural University. They will graduate next year. The pair said they appreciate what Purdue offered them.
"The undergraduate cooperative programs are my favorites," Wang said. "They are the reason I came here."
"The people and the courses have been the best," Wu said.
Both plan to attend graduate school after earning their degrees. Wang wouldn't mind studying for an engineering degree at Purdue. Wu sees herself becoming a college professor some day.
Whatever he decides, Wang said competitiveness and effort are important in his life. It's even a part of his name. "My name is pronounced like 'try,'" Shuai Wang said. "Keep trying until the last."