Engineering Professors Win Grants for Breakthrough Ideas

$75,000 in Awards Will Accelerate Commercialization

From left, Assoc. Prof. Sanjeev Manohar, Assoc. Prof. Joel Therrien and Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan.

From left, Assoc. Prof. Sanjeev Manohar, Assoc. Prof. Joel Therrien and Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan.

03/30/2012
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Every year, there’s an unspoken competition between researchers at the five UMass campuses —all of whom are hoping to win one of a small number of grants given by the UMass President’s Office to professors with the best chances of turning their technologies into commercial success.   

This year, UMass Lowell professors snagged a third of those grants. 

Three teams of University researchers — led by Assoc. Prof. Sanjeev Manohar of Chemical Engineering, Assoc. Prof. Joel Therrien of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan of Plastics Engineering — will receive three of this year’s nine grants from the UMass Commercial Ventures & Intellectual Property (CVIP) Technology Development Fund. The rest of the grantees are faculty members from the Amherst, Dartmouth and Worcester campuses.

Each team will receive $25,000 in funding.

From Blood Poisoning to Safe Laundry Detergents

Manohar and his team were recognized for developing an inexpensive, easy-to-use sensor system that instantaneously detect endotoxins, compounds from bacteria that can cause life-threatening septicemia and sepsis, also known as “blood poisoning.” Their initial research has been funded by the U.S. Army Research Lab. The team plans to use the CVIP grant to create a prototype of the device, test real-world samples and use the resulting data to attract licensees to manufacture the sensor.

Therrien, along with Profs. Susan Braunhut of Biology and Kenneth Marx of Chemistry, won the CVIP grant for developing the “nanocanary,” a living-cell-based biosensor that can be used in a wide range of applications, from toxicology testing of engineered nanomaterials to customized therapeutics and drug discovery. Initial funding for the team’s research came from the U.S. Army Research Lab and the National Science Foundation. The CVIP funds will be used to develop beta versions of the sensor that can be given to external groups for trials.

Nagarajan, along with graduate students Zarif Farhana, Ryan Bouldin and Vishal Bavishi and Asst. Prof. Bridgette Budhlall of Plastics Engineering, received the CVIP grant for developing non-toxic, bio-based and biodegradable surfactants using “greener” materials and synthetic routes. The team will use the funds to scale up their process and evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of bio-based surfactants at the Green Cleaning Lab of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell.

Investing in Innovation

Established in 2004, the CVIP is responsible for the commercialization of discoveries made on the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts. Revenues from the licensing of UMass technologies exceeded $36 million in fiscal year 2011.

“This program highlights University of Massachusetts researchers who stand at the forefront of scientific innovation,” says UMass President Robert Caret. “Each year, we continue to see remarkable discoveries coming from laboratories on UMass campuses — impressive breakthroughs that bring new products and medical treatments to the marketplace and emphasize the major role we play in improving and saving lives in Massachusetts and around the world.”

Over the past nine years, the CVIP has funded 66 projects, resulting in new licenses, the creation of new companies based on licensed technologies and $3 million in new research grants to faculty members on all five campuses.

Among the start-up companies formed is New York-based Anterios Inc., which manufactures delivery system based on nanotechnology to administer drugs and cosmetics. More than $10 million in capital has been invested into this venture, whose technology was developed at UMass Lowell.

For more information about the CVIP, visit www.cvip-umass.net.