Pranav Ranganathan likes to look at everyday things and wonder why they can’t be more efficient. More effective. Better.
Take a standard water fountain, for instance.
“Half the water just goes down the drain and doesn’t do anything,” the Penn State freshman and Schreyer Scholar said, “and I’m not sure why that hasn’t been changed. It seems super simple to fix and no one’s really doing it.”
Before coming to Penn State, Ranganathan showed a knack for wanting to improve things — and taking steps to do so. At the Downingtown STEM Academy in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, he co-founded a club that paired high school students with sixth-graders struggling in math. Every other year, he would travel to India, where he would volunteer his time and his technical skill to produce a promotional video for Vishwa’s Charitable Trust, a school for mentally challenged students.
He and two friends, including now-fellow Schreyer Scholar Nihaar Narayan, liked to use the academy’s 3D printer. The problem: Filament was expensive.
“We wanted to come up with something that could possibly help the school and could also help the environment,” Ranganathan said.
The three students set out to find a way to take everyday plastics — recyclable bottles, etc. — and melt them down into a filament that would be usable for 3D printing. They consulted with Shapeways, a 3D printing company, and asked around for other ideas about the type of plastics to use and the best way to create the filament, which turned out to be forcing it through a die.
“We put everything in solid works. Where we hit a dead end was the funding part of it,” Ranganathan said. “Finding angel investors is pretty hard to do.
“It was a good process in learning how to see the idea through.”
The filament project made the three students want to further explore the process of getting a patent, so they started another. They created the “Cold Capsule” — a cylindrical tissue holder built for car consoles.
“People take a regular tissue box and put it in their car; it slides around and it’s pretty inconvenient,” Ranganathan said. “So we thought we’d design a cylinder that fits in a cupholder and we could patent that product.”
The students consulted with an attorney and learned how to structure and draft the patent, discovering that high school students could get a reduction in price. However, the costs were still more substantial than the three wanted to pursue, so they decided not to file it.
Now a freshman who plans to major in mechanical engineering, Ranganathan is waiting for inspiration to strike again.
“If we have an idea or see anything that could potentially lead to something, we just kind of talk about it,” he said.