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New ideas brewing at Olin College's Innovation Expo

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 22, 2009 07:07 AM

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luminaire.jpgI stopped by Olin College yesterday morning to see what was shaking at the Olin Expo, a showcase for student projects held at the end of each semester.

Yes, there were sleekly-designed bikes, robotic plush toys, Baja off-road vehicles, and augmented reality systems.

But I was most struck by a trio of student groups working on projects related to coffee and tea. Is this small engineering school in Needham turning into Starbucks U.?

Chris Fitzhugh was showing off an electric tea kettle -- slim and sans handle -- that looked like a bottle of Voss water. Dan Greeley had examined the environmental impact of drip coffee makers, finding that they waste lots of energy by over-heating the water, then cooling it down. 

And Ben Salinas, a senior at Olin, was showing off the Luminaire Bravo 1: a single-cup coffeemaker designed for the most discriminating java swillers. (That's Salinas in the photo above.) The coffeemaker lets the barista control the temperature of the water, the rate at which water flows into the filter, and also the brewing time -- some baristas, Salinas explained, like to add water to the grounds, stop, and then start again. Coffee beans from different countries that are roasted in different ways need to be brewed differently, Salinas said. 

The Luminaire prototype is already in use at Barismo in East Arlington, and Salinas says he's planning to have a few more prototypes in the field by next year.

Why all the research-and-development interest in coffee and tea? Materials science prof Debbie Chachra, who helped the students organize the expo, says Olin students tend to dive into topics near and dear to their hearts... like caffeinated beverages.

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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