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Students invent cutlery to detect allergens

By Patrick Colvin

Madeleine Liu and Angela Wang brainstorming about how to best explain the potential impact of smart cutlery on people’s lives.
PHOTO SUBMITTED

Madeleine Liu and Angela Wang brainstorming about how to best explain the potential impact of smart cutlery on people’s lives. PHOTO SUBMITTED

While many high school students probably spent last weekend playing video games and trying to avoid their homework, Angela Wang and Madeleine Liu were turning heads at Startup Weekend Vancouver.

The two Grade 11 West Point Grey Academy students won first place, $10,000 worth of prizes, and the admiration of industry leaders for their pitch to design cutlery that can detect toxins, allergens, and nutritional content in food.

“I loved Madeleine and Angela’s presentation for their startup, Culitech. They had clear passion when they pitched and the judges couldn’t help but crown them the winners of the Startup Weekend,” said Hootsuite CEO and judge Ryan Holmes. “I wish them the best on taking their company to the next level.”

The cutlery would use near-infrared spectroscopy technology that would emit waves to quickly analyze the molecular breakdown of food and check it against a bioinformatics database.

“Say you are exposed to a food with nuts in it and for someone who has allergies, the cutlery will have a light signal that turns from green to red, and the person will know ‘wow’ there is a nut in there so we would be able to help them determine and prevent a serious outcome,” said Wang.

“We’re looking at continuing our research and development to make this product come to life. We feel that there is a market for this, in Canada 1-in-13 Canadians have a food allergy,” said Liu.

While the technology can detect allergens, Wang had the idea for the product because she wanted to create something that could help fight helicobacter pylori, an orally transmittable disease that can lead to cancer.

“I know people who are affected by helicobacter pylori … people are constantly exposed to this kind of bacteria (in Asia) because it remains on your chopstick or cutlery even after it is washed,” said Wang.