Engineering Students Win National Design Contest

February 29, 2008 - News Release

Read about the students in Maclean's On Campus

A team of University of Guelph engineering students has won a first-ever national competition for up-and-coming inventors sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation. Their creation was a single-handed bicycle braking lever that was inspired by a nine-year-old girl with a disabled hand.

The students — Andrew Morris, Anina Sakaguchi, Micha Wallace and Katie Bell — won $5,000 and are automatically entered into an international competition for the James Dyson Design Award. Dyson, the inventor of one of the world's most famous vacuum cleaners, was in Toronto Wednesday to judge the projects.

"It was a proud moment and what a great surprise," said engineering professor John Runciman, who supervised the students and helped work on the project. "Sir James Dyson is a very interesting speaker and obviously a very accomplished entrepreneur and designer. It was great to see the students get the recognition they deserve. They did a great job."

Dyson created the international award program based on his own experiences and frustrations as an inventor. "The award recognizes young designers and engineers that demonstrate the ability to think differently, persist through setbacks and create functional, innovative products that improve the way we live," according to the foundation.

The students took on the bicycle brake project for their fourth-year engineering design course. The bike was for Lauren Turner, a young girl who was born with a normal left thumb but only stubs for fingers, reducing her hand's range of motion, span and grip strength. The condition prevented her from stopping bicycles safely because she couldn't operate the left-hand lever for the front brake.

"We came up with a bike brake lever that combines both the front and the back into the same lever handle using linkages," said Wallace, now a U of G master's student.

Not only does the system work with one hand but the group's testing shows that it also works better than regular brakes, stopping a bicycle twice as fast.

The one-handed braking system was designed to be used on any bike and may ultimately prove useful for other cyclists with disabilities or those who have to often brake with a single hand, such as police officers and bicycle couriers, Wallace said.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1