Faculty News

Steve Knotek, Leslie Babinski recognized for best scientific venture

Assistant Professor Steve Knotek and Clinical Associate Professor Leslie Babinski have developed a venture to help students become better test takers. “Optimal Learning” is a plan to market a computer mouse equipped with a biosensor that enables students to monitor their stress levels while taking tests and software that teaches them to use biofeedback to reduce their anxiety.

Their proposal won the Liquidia Science Award for “best scientific venture” at UNC-Chapel Hill’s fifth annual Carolina Challenge entrepreneurial business-plan competition March 28, 2009.

“As school psychologists, we know that anxiety is one of the main mental health issues confronting students,” said Knotek. “Many students have symptoms of anxiety, and very little support is available to help them and their parents cope with the fallout from this underreported problem.”

Anxiety can impact the ability of students to perform to their highest ability on high stakes tests and exams. “For example, the SAT and ACT determine in part what options students have for college. And, a student’s acceptance into a particular college can have a monumental impact on the course of his or her life,” said Knotek.

Initially, Knotek and Babinski plan on using Optimal Learning to support high school students in controlling and mastering their test anxiety so that they can do well on high stakes college aptitude tests. They want students’ transition from high school to college to be based on their optimal performance and capability.  

Subsequently, they plan to develop the system further so that school districts can make it available to students with anxiety and thereby support their optimal performance on other high stakes tests such as End of Grade exams.

Furthermore, they intend to develop the system in the future so that it can be used to support youth who are greatly impacted by stress and who have identified anxiety disorders.

“We are very thankful for Luiquidia and the University’s support in helping us further develop an intervention that will allow students to overcome a potentially limiting barrier to their academic success,” said Knotek.

The Carolina Challenge is a program of the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative, launched in the spring of 2004 to foster entrepreneurship among teams of UNC faculty, staff and students from all schools and departments.  

Sixty teams entered this year’s competition for four categories of awards. The finalists presented their plans to a panel of judges including successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, philanthropists, community leaders and University leaders. Nine teams were selected as this year’s winners.

The Liquidia Science Award carries a $1,000 prize sponsored by Liquidia Technologies Inc., a company based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., that engineers and manufactures particles and films for new drug therapies and other uses in life and materials sciences.