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Unimpossible

Can You Make Pigs Fly? New Science Challenge Seeks To Disprove Impossible Idioms.

Thomas Edison cofounded GE 124 years ago and the company celebrated his birthday this winter by proving that — scientifically speaking — the “impossible” was possible. Its engineers took a literary tack and disproved three popular English idioms describing impossible things with science — they brought a snowball back from hell, caught lightning in a bottle and made a wall talk. The unusual scientific experiments also became a three-part video series called “Unimpossible Missions.”

GE is now extending the same challenge to students. The company partnered with the open innovation platform NineSigma and more than 125 universities around the world to reach the brightest young minds.

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The students’ mission is simple: Come up with something that most people think is impossible and then prove them wrong. Once again, the idea must be expressed as an idiom or a saying. Nailing jelly to a tree seems relatively easy, but making pigs fly would probably get the world’s attention.

Students must submit their ideas by June 14, together with a plan detailing how they will debunk the idiom they picked with GE technology and resources.

The winning team challenge will get a $100,000 scholarship and a 10-week paid internship to work alongside GE scientists and researchers at one of the company’s 10 global research centers.

A jury will select the winning entry on July 19. GE will also include it in the next series of “Unimpossible Missions” videos. Students who finish in second and third place will also win 10-week paid internships.

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Steve Buresh, a materials processing engineer at the GE Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, was part of the team that submerged a snowball in the hell of a foundry without melting it. Buresh, who has worked at GE for the past decade on everything from nuclear reactors to medical imaging machines, says students should focus on outcomes that have at least a tenuous connection to reality. His team originally wanted to put a snowball in a volcano, but there were too many safety concerns. “The missions have to be grounded a little bit in some realm that we can work with,” he says.

Instead of a volcano, his team dunked a snowball sheathed in high-tech insulation in molten steel. “We were a little stressed because of some of the unknowns, but it was pretty rewarding in the end,” Buresh says. “I would do it again.”

Another GE team caught an artificial bolt of lightning in a bottle and then used the charge to start a car. A third team used a high-tech sensor that detected vibrations in the Berlin Wall caused by human voice.

GE employs more than 60,000 engineers, scientists and researchers, who are working on everything from software for the Industrial Internet to next-generation jet engines and medical scanners. The entrance to GE’s original Global Research Center in Niskayuna is emblazoned with Edison’s inspirational quote: “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.”

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