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Duluth student is among 6 finalists in national inventors competition

Katelyn France is in the running to win $100,000 from the Collegiate Inventors Competition for her MAQR bracelets — medical bracelets that link to emergency information when the QR code is scanned with a smartphone.

Katelyn France, a student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Duluth Campus, wears a prototype of her MAQR bracelet on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The QR code allows quick access to a person's medical information and the innovation has made France one of six finalists in the Collegiate Inventors Competition. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

A student inventor at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota Pharmacy School doesn’t want you to meet your maker. She’d much prefer you meet her MAQR — the Medical Assistance via Quick Response code bracelet she’s been developing for seven years.

Katelyn France first realized her idea in ninth grade at Hinckley-Finlayson High School, when she learned that a medical alert ID bracelet cost up to $100 for a simple piece of metal that couldn’t be changed.

“I looked at my high school science teacher (Joe Ranger) and said, ‘I can do better than that!’” France said. “He looked at me and said, ‘If you think you can make the world a better place, why aren’t you doing that right now?’ And I took that to heart.”

She created a medical bracelet that includes the standard emergency information, plus a QR code that will link to more information from a smartphone, including medical conditions, locations of emergency medicine and any other potentially lifesaving details.


Katelyn France, a student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Duluth Campus, displays a prototype of her MAQR bracelet on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The bracelet has a QR code that can be scanned to show a person's medical history and information in times of medical distress. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

If a person is experiencing a medical emergency, like an allergic reaction or seizure, a bystander can scan the QR code on the bracelet while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The code can tell them how to help or where to locate emergency medicine, such as an EpiPen. The wearer can personally include whatever information they want. Most smart phones can scan QR codes through camera apps.

France's MAQR bracelets have taken her all the way to the finals of the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a national competition in which six undergraduate and six graduate inventions are selected as finalists to vie for a $100,000 prize, plus networking, exposure and collaboration with patent experts.

France is one of the undergraduate finalists. Her adviser, Cynthia Welsh, said it was exciting to see France selected from the University of Minnesota Duluth, where she earned her undergraduate degree, alongside students from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin and Florida Atlantic University.

“It’s been absolutely surreal,” France said. “When I got that phone call, everything stopped. I think I let out a scream in the restaurant I was in.”

Each of the finalists will present their inventions virtually Oct. 13 to a panel composed of National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office officials. Winners will be announced the next day.

Katelyn France, a student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Duluth Campus, shows the type of information that her MAQR bracelet can access by using a smartphone Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune


France, who is 21, said she's ecstatic to participate in the competition, but she is most excited that she can be a role model to young scientists. She said growing up, she didn’t see a lot of representation of women in scientist roles until she met Welsh at the Northeast Minnesota Regional Science Fair when France was in ninth grade. Welsh, who also teaches science at Cloquet High School, is the fair director.

“I know nothing about how to do QR codes or Bluetooth, but I do know how to write a good science research paper and how to take the results and analyze them,” Welsh said.

Welsh helped France with research to prove that the bracelet was statistically significant, and connected her to other resources in the science field, including the application for the Collegiate Inventors Competition.

“Dr. Welsh was really my first champion of the bracelet and the one who showed me what a scientist looks like and how I can become one,” France said.


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Both women agree France’s participation in science fairs throughout high school helped her learn scientific processes and boosted France’s confidence in the field.
“Doing the science fair in ninth grade really jump starts your skills and a lot of things that many people don’t gain until they’re in college — presenting, writing research papers, connecting with other scientists,” Welsh said. “A lot of times, people aren’t doing that until graduate school.”

France hopes to find an investor for the MAQR bracelets. Now that she’s in graduate school — studying pharmacy after graduating from UMD in May with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry — France said she will have to direct more of her focus to studying, but she is always thinking of inventions and ways she can improve medical technology.

France operates under the LLC SMYLE (Scientists Making Your Life Easier). She has already created an extension to her MAQR bracelets: a carrying case connected to the bracelet via Bluetooth that makes a noise to help people find it and any medications or other contents within. And she’s interested in working with artificial intelligence in the future.


“I am, at my heart, a scientist,” France said. “I like to build; I like to create.”

Winners of the Collegiate Inventors Competition will be announced Oct. 14.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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