Illinois Institute of Technology Announces Three Finalists for $1 Million-Plus Nayar Prize II


Illinois Institute of Technology, a premier, global, technology-focused university located in Chicago, announces three finalists for its Nayar Prize II, a $1 million-plus prize package awarded to develop breakthrough projects that will, within three years, produce meaningful results with a societal impact.

The Nayar Family Foundation created the prize for students, faculty, and staff at Illinois Tech to recognize their extraordinary problem-solving capabilities and help move the needle toward significant innovations to impact society, the economy, and our environment.

“The projects selected for the Nayar Prize represent the incredible work, and creative and critical innovations, coupled with the ambitions of the university,” said Frances Bronet, provost. “The array of entries crossed all disciplines and embodied a commitment to solving difficult and pressing large-scale issues through technological and social analysis that offers clear and applicable action plans.”

The three finalists for the Nayar Prize II are developing:

  • A Data-Driven Crime Prevention Program: The goal of this project is to design, implement, and deploy a flexible, new model for crime prevention that can be translated to a wide array of communities in the United States and beyond, thereby achieving far-reaching societal impact. The project will yield new developments in predictive modeling technology, along with a legal-ethical framework for appropriately employing this technology to crime prevention in a way that respects privacy rights and achieves acceptance by the community. The model will be developed in partnership with the Elgin (Illinois) Police, and an intervention program resulting from these development efforts will be enacted in the city of Elgin. Team members include Miles Wernick, Motorola Endowed Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, director, Medical Imaging Research Center, and professor, biomedical engineering; Lori Andrews, Distinguished Professor of Law and director, Institute for Science, Law, and Technology at Chicago-Kent College of Law; and Yongyi Yang, Harris Perlstein Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor, biomedical engineering.
  • Cyberbullying Early Warning and Response System: Cyberbullying is a widespread public health issue affecting roughly a third of teenage Internet users and often resulting in serious consequences such as physical violence, depression, and substance abuse. The goal of this project is to develop software tools to forecast imminent cyberbullying threats and vulnerabilities in online social networks. The approach will build on recent advances in natural language processing, machine learning, and social network analysis. With the resulting cross-platform tool, individuals and communities will be better equipped to intervene in cyberbullying episodes in real-time to reduce harm and improve outcomes. Team members include Libby Hemphill, associate professor, communication and information studies; and Aron Culotta, assistant professor, computer science.
  • Microfluidic Drug-Microbiota Interaction Platform: Intestinal microbiota affect our health by altering the metabolism of drugs. These drug-microbiota interactions have lowered the efficacy of approved drugs in large subsets of patients. The lack of a tool to quantify these interactions leaves us vulnerable, especially with the increased use of probiotics and an upsurge in antibiotic resistance. The problem is exacerbated due to the lack of physiological models to represent the intestinal microenvironment. The team proposes to disrupt the field by building a discovery platform to assess these interactions using a more physiologically relevant model of the intestine. Team members include Abhinav Bhushan, assistant professor, biomedical engineering; Genoveva Murillo, research assistant professor, biology, IIT Research Institute; and Rajendra Mehta, professor emeritus, biology, IIT Research Institute.

The three finalists will each be granted $100,000 to spend within a year to show significant progress toward a solution for the problem they are investigating. In year two, up to two teams that show the most promise will receive an additional $100,000 each to continue their work over the next year. In the end, the Finalist Team receives an additional $100,000 for another year of effort to complete the goals of its program. The successful completion of these goals as judged by the Nayar Prize II Steering Committee and approved by the Nayar Prize Oversight Committee will result in the awarding of the $500,000 Nayar Prize II to the Finalist Team.

The Nayar Prize is funded by distinguished Illinois Tech alumnus and trustee Madhavan Nayar and his wife, Teresa, on behalf of the Nayar Family Foundation. Madhavan Nayar is the founder of a company that is a pioneer in information integrity software.

Learn more about the Nayar Prize and the finalists at