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11-25-2003

Clarkson University Freshman Gains National Acclaim As Inventor And Entrepreneur

[A photograph of Nyberg for newspaper use is available at http://clarkson.edu/news/photos/nyberg.jpg]

Clarkson University student Michael Nyberg is becoming accustomed to media attention. After all, the college freshman has been answering reporters’ questions and posing for cameras with the mosquito eradication device he invented since he was just 15 years old.nyberg

The road to entrepreneur and inventor began for Nyberg after he won the 2001 Connecticut Science Fair, thereby qualifying him for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Detroit. The science project, which placed him among the top five Intel finalists, demonstrated why iron doesn’t rust in super-oxygenated water. “The real highlight of that experience, however,” he says, “is that I got to visit an anechoic chamber at the Daimler Benz research and development lab.” For those of us less scientifically attuned, an anechoic chamber is a sound-deadening room.

Nyberg returned to his home in Old Lyme, Conn., determined to develop another science experiment that would again propel him to the Intel Science and Engineering Fair. “This time,” says Nyberg, “I wanted to do something with acoustics.” Conferring with his dad, Herbert Nyberg, the budding scientist was advised to “pick a project with a practical application.” The senior Nyberg is a former U.S. Navy submariner and had worked several years for a company that developed sonar products, primarily for military applications.

With the West Nile virus beginning to make headlines in Connecticut, Nyberg wondered if it would be possible to kill mosquito larvae using sound waves. Crediting his dad with teaching him the fundamentals of acoustics, he set out find the answer. Initially, it was thought, even by experts in the field, that it would take massive levels of very targeted energy to destroy the larvae. As he recalls, “even if it didn’t work, I figured it would at least make a great science experiment.” 

Nyberg began work on his science project using a borrowed transducer -- a device that transfers electrical power to acoustic sound waves. He quickly discovered that contrary to using large doses of power, a little power in a defined frequency, was nearly 100 percent fatal to the mosquito larvae.

“The great part of this project,” says Nyberg, “is that I did everything myself. I didn’t use a university lab for my experiment, like most of the exhibitors. I completed the whole thing in my garage. I even grew my own mosquitoes.” This independence, coupled with his youth, captured the imagination of the media.

With scientific proof in hand that he could kill mosquito larvae without resorting to chemicals, Nyberg’s next step was to find out what effect sound waves have on other aquatic life. “The reason my invention works,” he says, “is that unlike other species, mosquito larvae breathe air. As air in the larvae bladder absorbs energy from the sound waves, it ruptures, causing immediate death. The low frequency we use doesn’t harm other species,” he added. He has tested his unit on dragonflies, fish, frogs, and other aquatic life, with no detrimental effects.

Recognizing the commercial potential of his invention, Nyberg and his father patented it and founded New Mountain Innovations, a company to market the larvae killing machine. The Larvasonic, as his device is called, has already been sold to several municipalities in the U.S. and Canada. The Nybergs are now hard at work developing a consumer model.

“The media attention began almost immediately,” recalls Nyberg. To date, the student inventor has been interviewed by several regional newspapers, a British newspaper, the New York Times and two of the three major television networks. This past week CNN traveled to Clarkson University, in Potsdam, N.Y., to interview Nyberg for a feature on the “Lou Dobbs Tonight” show, titled “America’s Bright Future.” The segment will air the week of December 1. It will mark Nyberg’s third appearance on CNN.

It will be at least eight years, however, before Nyberg will be joining his dad at New Mountain Innovations on a full-time basis. That’s because, in addition to studying aeronautical engineering, he is enrolled in Clarkson University’s Air Force ROTC program. “This means I have a four-year military commitment after graduation,” he remarked. He also has a dream of working for NASA someday. “Hopefully, I can do that, and also help develop new products for our company,” he said. Nyberg chose aeronautical engineering at Clarkson University and the Air Force for much the same reason, he loves technology. He selected Clarkson, he says,  “because of its engineering reputation and the hands-on, team learning that is stressed by the University.”

In this age where it is easy to be cynical about America’s future, it is reassuring to realize that it does indeed look bright … thanks to young people like Michael Nyberg leading the way.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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