Mechanical engineering doctoral student Dan Orfeo is the winner of UVM’s first Design It, Pitch It, Fab It competition aimed at students. A similar contest has focused on entrepreneurs in the Vermont community in the past.

Design It, Pitch It, Fab It invites participants to pitch their product ideas to a judging panel. The winner earns the opportunity to work with the staff and use the equipment at UVM’s Instrumentation and Model Facility to take their rough concept to the working prototype stage. The IMF is a custom design and fabrication facility that helps UVM faculty create equipment for their research.

Orfeo won the contest, held October 9 in Waterman Manor, for a device that will allow a ground penetrating radar system developed by faculty in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences to better identify unexploded land mines in former war zones, differentiating them from similarly sized rocks.

Winners are chosen based not only on how original and practical their product idea is but also on the extent to which they need the skills and experience of the IMF team. IMF contributes the equivalent of $5,000 in time and materials to the winning project to build and help design the prototype.

There were 11 presentations in all at the October 9 event, some by individual students, some by teams. Products ranged from a microbial fuel cell that could power a greenhouse during the Martian winter to a plan for upgrading cell phone cameras to create cinema-quality video to a device that could retrieve orbiting space junk.

UVM has run the community-oriented version of the competition for four years.

“It’s been a great success,” said Richard Galbraith, UVM’s vice president for research. But over that time period, there has been a “groundswell of interest among students at UVM in entrepreneurial activity,” Galbraith said. “It didn’t make sense to do this event for the general public and not for UVM.”

The university will hold the first Design It, Pitch It, Fab It competition for faculty in 2019, while continuing to sponsor annual contests for the community and students.

Galbraith was pleased with the turnout at the first student event. “It’s fabulous to see this much enthusiasm and this many people turning out,” he said.

The device Orfeo is designing is a custom magnetron for orbital angular momentum radar. It uses an emerging technology to scatter radar waves around the area it is scanning. Objects that are the size and shape of landmines will register as a stronger signal.

IMF will help Orfeo design and build a resonance chamber for the device.

Judges for the pitch contest included Galbraith; Chris Thompson, director of Generator, a Burlington makerspace; and Mike Lane, director of UVM’s Instrumentation and Technical Services group, of which IMF is a part.

Design It, Pitch It, Fab It is sponsored by the Office for the Vice President for Research.


Jeffrey R. Wakefield