College students, long treated as the interns of the R&D world, are coming into their own as designers and innovators, thanks to a series of contests aimed especially at them. "Students are more willing than corporations to try new solutions to difficult problems," says Frank Falcone, a mechanical engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, a sponsor of the annual EcoCAR Challenge. Unlike prize-driven contests, student contests often offer a few thousand dollars of seed money up front in return for little more than bragging rights or a trophy as the payoff. "But I know I learned more doing this than in my whole undergraduate career," says Falcone, who competed in Challenge X, a student contest to improve fuel economy in autos. And to graduate knowing that you've built a zero-emission vehicle, or developed artificial blood, means that you've made better use of your tuition money than that guy down the hall who played beer pong all day. Here, four collegiate contests that ask much and pay little.