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Iowa State awards grants to develop health, energy and research technologies

AMES, Iowa Iowa State University researchers will use grants of state money to develop an instrument that reveals single molecules, test technology that can detect food contamination, design taller wind turbine towers and advance seven other projects with potential to grow the state's economy.

The state Board of Regents recently approved Iowa State's proposal to award 10 competitive grants totaling $942,389 from Iowa State's $1.459 million share of this year's Grow Iowa Values Fund. Iowa State has awarded the grants since 2006 to research projects with potential for commercial development.

"These grants are part of Iowa State's System for Innovation program that's focused on transferring university technologies to startup or existing companies," said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State's vice president for research and economic development. "This system recognizes that the fuel for transferring university technology to the Iowa economy is faculty and staff research."

The largest grant in this year's competition, $120,075, was awarded to Sanjeevi Sivasankar, an Iowa State assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory. He'll work with Novascan Technologies Inc. of Ames to commercialize a new instrument that improves the study of single biological molecules.

As a post-doctoral researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, Sivasankar worked with Steven Chu, the current U.S. Secretary of Energy and co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, to develop and build a single-molecule microscope. Supported by startup research funds from Iowa State, Sivasankar's laboratory has significantly refined the instrument by increasing its measurement capabilities, efficiency and ease of use. The instrument integrates two single-molecule technologies that have been used separately: atomic force microscope technology that manipulates molecules and measures forces; and fluorescence resonance energy transfer technology that observes single molecules at very high resolution.

Using one or the other technology is like "having hands but no eyes or eyes but no hands," said Sivasankar. "We can combine these two technologies into one instrument."

That makes a big difference in biological studies, Sivasankar said. Typically, biologists study samples made up of thousands of molecules. The resulting data describes the average molecule in the sample. He said the new instrument can reveal the individual characteristics of a molecule.

Sivasankar, who has been working to refine a prototype of the instrument, said the microscope is very useful in his own studies of how the cells of the body bind and organize themselves. He said the instrument could also be a powerful tool in biomedical research, drug discovery, cancer diagnostics and bio-sensing applications.

The other Iowa State projects to win 2010 grants from the Grow Iowa Values Fund are:

  • $117,944 to Ayman Fayed, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. He'll work with Rockwell Collins Inc. to develop switching power regulators that are appropriate for sensitive, portable communication and navigation devices. The new regulators would replace inefficient components and could double the battery life of the devices.

  • $109,243 to Vasant Honavar, professor of computer science and director of Iowa State's Center for Computational Intelligence, Learning and Discovery. He'll work with Collaborative Health Solutions LLC of Austin, Texas, to develop advanced algorithms and software tools for computer applications that can improve the quality and reduce the cost of health care.

  • $109,000 to Sri Sritharan, Wilson Engineering Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. He'll work with Iowa Prestressed Concrete of Des Moines, Clipper Windpower Inc. of Carpinteria, Calif., and Lafarge North America of Herndon, Va., to develop and test his concept of using ultra high performance concrete to build taller towers for wind turbines. Taller towers allow turbines to reduce wind energy cost while increasing their production of electricity.

  • $106,961 to Byron Brehm-Stecher, an assistant professor of food science and human nutrition. He's working with Advanced Analytical Inc. of Ames to study how an instrument developed by the company can be used to quickly detect foodborne pathogens and increase food safety.

  • $99,883 to Rick Sharp, professor of kinesiology and director of Iowa State's Kinesiology Laboratories. He'll work with Metabolic Technologies Inc. of Ames to develop a new gel system to deliver HMB, a dietary supplement that can reduce muscle damage and inflammatory response after exercise while promoting muscle recovery.

  • $83,000 to Patrick Halbur, professor and chair of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and executive director of Iowa State's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; James West, director of food supply veterinary medicine; Marianna Jahnke, a research associate in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine; Paul Plummer, assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine; Rodger Main, director of operations for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; and Vickie Cooper, a senior clinician for veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine. They'll work with the Ames Center for Genetic Technologies to develop a genetic test of cattle embryos for inherited diseases and other traits.

  • $78,305 to Hui Hu, an associate professor of aerospace engineering. He'll work with the Goodrich Engine Components Division of West Des Moines to develop advanced diagnostic techniques to quantify spray characteristics that will help develop the next generation of fuel nozzles for gas turbine engines. Improving fuel nozzles will allow better fuel efficiency and fewer emissions while maintaining operation requirements.

  • $77,388 to Suraj Kothari, professor of electrical and computer engineering. He'll work with EnSoft Corp. of Ames to develop new technology that quickly tests the reliability of software used in the transportation control systems of cars and planes.

  • $40,590 to Diane Janvrin, associate professor of accounting; Mike Upah, manager of business development for Iowa State's Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship; and Sanjeev Agarwal, a professor of marketing. They'll work with WebFilings LLC of Ames and Los Altos, Calif., to research potential markets for the company's software that helps businesses complete reports for the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Contact: Sharron Quisenberry
Iowa State University

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