Benjamin Johnson and Zane Zents of the Grain Weevil team created a grain bin safety and management robot that keeps farmers safe and grain stored efficiently. The team’s work, which started out as a personal favor to help a farmer friend who did not want to climb into grain bins, led to their creation of a device with the potential to transform the agriculture industry. The Grain Weevil is a novel solution that addresses key issues on farms across the U.S. and the world. The team was awarded the 2021 $10,000 “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their inventiveness.
Ben Johnson is a senior studying electrical engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Omaha campus). He studies electronics engineering, and is taking courses in microelectronic circuit design, circuit analysis, electromagnetic field theory, communication systems, wind and solar energy, and technical writing. He has worked for Myers Electric and Solar Heat & Electric throughout his college career. Solar Heat & Electric is a leader in the residential installation of solar power in Nebraska and Iowa.
Ben’s community has been the inspiration for his inventive nature for many years. He grew up in Aurora, Nebraska and spent almost every day at the Edgerton Explorit Center, learning innovation skills in the same hometown as the famed Harold Edgerton. Participation in a local program called Youth Engaged in Technology and Innovation gave Ben opportunities to gain valuable experience through competitive robotics. Ben started giving back to his community by mentoring students in innovation and creativity through a position on the non-profit board for Youth Engaged in Technology and Innovation. He also launched a company, JLI Robotics, which uses electronics and robotics to solve challenges for businesses. Innovation, including the Grain Weevil invention, is how Ben gives back to the community that has given him so much.
Zane Zents is a senior at the University of Nebraska Omaha studying computer engineering, computer science, and mathematics. He has spent his college career focusing on making himself a better software engineer, taking classes on topics such as microprocessor design, database management, and data analysis.
Zane quickly developed more skills once he entered the computer engineering program, with the support and infrastructure offered by his mentors and peers. He used his programming experience to help his friends and classmates who were struggling, and came to realize how fulfilling it was to use his skills to offer others understanding and peace of mind. This ability to help others with his knowledge encouraged him to invent and, in part, led him to land an internship as a software engineer at a local company during his freshman year. He uses the skills garnered from this internship experience and what he learned from his classes to work on innovative projects like the Grain Weevil.