In 2002, Ashkon Shaahinfar was a senior at Lodi High School and was active in the Science Olympiad, Breakthrough Club, jazz band, speech and debate and the track team. He was even Mr. Nerd in 2001.
Now he's an inventor.
Shaahinfar, 20, a junior biomedical engineering major at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is a finalist in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
The son of Mohammad Shaahinfar and Mina Morshedi, of Woodbridge, Shaahinfar and two teammates, Gillian Hoe and Elbert Hu, have developed a way to detect pre-term labor, a method intended to prevent premature delivery.
The team created a device that measures the conductivity of a pregnant woman's cervical tissue so that doctors will know when the tissue swells.
"One exciting part of it is presenting the program," Shaahinfar said in a phone interview from Baltimore.
Shaahinfar, Hoe, and Hu will present their invention to a panel of eight judges, including representatives from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and inductees from the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Final judging for undergraduate students takes place on Oct. 2, and all competitors have a chance at the $50,000 grand prize. In addition, a graduate prize of $25,000 and an undergraduate prize of $15,000 will be awarded, plus $5,000 adviser prizes. Winners will be announced at a ceremony the evening of Oct. 2 at the in Akron, Ohio.
"He works from his heart," Morshedi said. "He doesn't think of the money aspect of anything. He doesn't work (just) to get grades."
Shaahinfar said he is excited for the opportunity to create the device at the request of Dr. Gurewitsch, an adviser along with Dr. Robert Allen. The team is still in the research and development phase.
"We haven't tested it on human subjects yet," Shaahinfar said.
The invention is designed to reduce the 11 percent premature birthrate in the United States, said National Inventors Hall of Fame spokeswoman Rini Paiva.
The invention measures a woman's water content with extreme precision. By passing a very low current electrical signal through the tissue, the students measure the tissue's resistance.
Resistance decreases when the water content increases, providing a reliable way to measure the changes. The current is too weak for the patient to feel, and the end result is an accurate prediction of whether she is susceptible to pre-term labor.
Students choose research projects solicited by the academic community and businesses in the greater Baltimore area, Shaahinfar said.
"One of the great things about Hopkins is the research opportunities," Shaahinfar said. "About 70 percent of the undergraduates do some sort of research."
Shaahinfar said he wanted to thank his parents, family, teachers at Lodi High and the scholarship office. As a LHS senior, he won the prestigious Frank H. Buck Scholarship, which pays tuition to any university in the country.
"Without that (scholarship), I couldn't come to Hopkins," he said.
Shaahinfar didn't rest up in the summer, either. He went to Iran, where his parents were born, and interviewed HIV patients, their families and family doctors. His minor is in international health and development.
"He hasn't taken any breaks since he started (college)," his mother said.
While at Lodi High, Shaahinfar spent the summer making a solar oven at home.
Morshedi recalls asking, "Why don't you submit that as your senior project?"
He replied, "I'm only doing it for summer fun."
"He's been like that since he was a child," his mother said. "He always checks books about how things are made. The library was his home."
Shaahinfar said he loves university life -- "Everything but the East Coast weather."