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Gov. Rauner Heckled At U of I Student Innovator Awards

Jim Meadows

  Governor Bruce Rauner was met with a mixed reception Thursday, when he stopped at the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The governor was there to congratulate students who had won awards for innovative technology.

The governor was applauded by those who came to see the awarding of the Illinois Innovation Prize during an all-day Entrepreneurship Forumat the Illini Union. But he was heckled by demonstrators who blamed him for the budget impasse that’s held up state funding for higher education --- except for some recently approved stopgap funding that Rauner signed on Monday.

The demonstrators --- both inside and outside the room where the the award ceremony was held--- held signs, pounded on walls and chanted “Rauner go home." Meanwhile, the governor promised that better times were coming for higher education in Illinois.

“I ask for your perseverance during these troubled times," said Rauner over the chanting. "We are going to get a budget. It’s taken too long. We are going to fund higher education in a significant way. And we are going to significantly increase the support for the U of I in future years, so you can expand your positive impact on the Illinois economy.”

Governor Rauner concluded his remarks with “Great job and congratulations," to the applause and cheers of those who came for the awards ceremony, but also continued heckling from the demonstrators.. Then, after speaking for less than two minutes, he left without speaking to reporters, and without getting the chance to meet the winner of the Illinois Innovation Prize. The prize is awarded annually to "the most innovative student on campus" by the Technology Entrepreneur Center at the U of I's College of Engineering.

This year's winner is M.D. and Ph.D. candidate Aadeel Akhtar, whose startup company, PSYONIC, has been working with the non-profit Range Of Motion Projectto develop a high-tech, prosthetic hand with sensory feedback --- simulating a sense of touch ---- that can be sold for less than a thousand dollars.  As this year’s winner, Akhtar was awarded $18,000.

After the governor and the demonstrators had gone, Akhtar expressed his thanks for receiving the Illinois Innovation Prize. And he said his startup company had made an "insane" amount of progress in just the past two years --- and predicted more improvements to come.

"This is just the beginning of innovation. we are going to make these prostheses even better and deploy them all over the world."

Akhtar says the latest veresion of the PSYONIC prosthetic hand has been undergoing testing in Ecuador, and he hopes to get it on the market, possibly as soon as spring, 2017.