News Archive 2020

News Articles

Inventors Spotlight: Steve Tung and Bo Ma

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — February 13, 2020

Coronavirus and E. coli outbreaks have brought the importance of swift, accurate detection to the forefront. University of Arkansas researchers are meeting that need by developing an accurate, affordable handheld device that has applications not only for virus and bacteria detection, but for biomedical research and clinical diagnostics. And, they are leveraging the university's entrepreneurial ecosystem to commercialize their invention and share it with the world.

U of A professor Steve Tung and engineering postdoctoral research fellow Bo Ma have been awarded a second commercialization grant from the Chancellor's Fund in support of their portable handheld DNA-sequencing system. Their successful, first commercialization grant led to the redesign of a DNA sequencing chip to automate sequencing. Phase II will lead to the development of a handheld prototype based on the improved sequencing chip, as well as a smartphone app for data analysis.

Tung and Ma's portable device potentially could be used to identify on-site causes of food-borne illnesses and virus outbreaks in real-time. The time saved with their handheld device versus the traditional practice of taking samples to a lab for testing could help limit or halt the spread of these outbreaks.

Tung, who holds a 21st Century Professorship in the College of Engineering, was the principal investigator of a prior National Science Foundation grant that led to the development of the nanochannel DNA sequencing device that he and Ma continue to refine for commercialization. U of A biological and agricultural engineering professor Jin-Woo Kim was the co-investigator on the NSF grant.

Ma received his PhD in microelectronics-photonics from the U of A and a certificate of entrepreneurship from the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He built on his Walton College experience by serving as the entrepreneur lead of an NSF-funded National I-Corps team, which gave him valuable training in customer discovery and business model development. Ma founded Genome X LLC, a startup company dedicated to commercializing the DNA-sequencing device. The company's launch was supported by the Gap Fund, a subset of the Chancellor's Fund. Both the Commercialization and Gap Funds are supported by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

Tung and Ma's device distinguishes itself by using a nanochannel chip to lengthen DNA strands and measure tunneling current, a process that allows the user to determine what genetic information is contained on the DNA segment with a higher degree of accuracy and consistency at a lower cost than current commercially available systems. The data produced by sequencing the DNA can be used in a number of different ways such as showing genetic alterations that cause disease as well as identifying a particular virus or bacteria present in a sample.

"Steve Tung and Bo Ma exemplify the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship we are building and fostering at the University of Arkansas," said David Snow, executive director of U of A Technology Ventures. "Their handheld device, developed and patented at the U of A, holds significant promise. Twenty years ago, next-generation genetic-sequencing platforms revolutionized science and health care by integrating 'sequencing by synthesis' chemistry and data science into new machines roughly the size of a china cabinet. This technology incorporates electrochemistry and data science into a third generation of devices that can potentially reduce sequencing time and cost by another order of magnitude. Additionally, the elegant simplicity of this technology allows the platform to be shrunk into a handheld device for potential point of use/point of care. This is very exciting!"

About the University of Arkansas Technology Ventures: The University of Arkansas Technology Ventures has initiated a program to commercialize a wide range of research tools, whether patented or not. Technology Ventures manages, protects and commercializes the intellectual property portfolio of the University of Arkansas. Technology Ventures serves the university's faculty, staff and students as well as external inventors and entrepreneurs to disseminate knowledge, technology and products to the public market to generate revenue and future research support. In this way, we also serve the public as it is our responsibility to enable public utilization of products derived from university research.

U of A Student Innovation Team Wins Graduate Division at 20th Annual Arkansas Governor's Cup

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — April 13, 2020 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A University of Arkansas student innovation team seeking to end herbicide drift took the top prize in the graduate division of the 20th annual Arkansas Governor's Cup on Wednesday during a virtual awards ceremony.

"We see our solution adding great value to the agricultural sector not just in Arkansas, but in all states involved in soybean, cotton and corn farming," said Gurshagan Kandhola, CelluDot's chief research and development officer. 

"Our mission is to end the problem of drift with a biobased product that keeps herbicides at the target site of application, a win-win for farmers, agrochemical companies and the environment."

Kandhola added that guidance from Carol Reeves and Sarah Goforth in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, as well as Jin-Woo Kim, a professor in the university's Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, were instrumental in CelluDot's journey.

Last month, 50 students representing 18 teams from eight Arkansas universities made virtual presentations to nearly 30 judges during the final round of competition.

Teams were judged in several areas, including identification of the problems in the marketplace and how their business ideas will solve them, demonstrations of customer discovery and validation to prove viability of ideas and revealing what was learned from customer research, identification of potential competitors in the marketplace, explanations of how marketing and distribution will be addressed, addressing possible critical risks to the businesses.

"Thanks to videoconferencing technologies and the flexibility of everyone involved in this process, we've been able to pull off this competition in the midst of a world turned upside down," said Rush Deacon, CEO of ACC, which has managed the Governor's Cup since the first competition in 2001.

The distribution of the Governor's Cup $154,000 cash prize pool includes $25,000 to the winners of the graduate and undergraduate divisions, $15,000 to the second place winners in both divisions, and $10,000 for both third place winners. 

Faculty advisors for all six winning teams each received $2,000 in cash. For the Innovation Division, a winning team is chosen in both the graduate and undergraduate divisions. Each team received a $5,000 cash prize.

Other winners in the graduate division included second-place finisher T.I.B.N., also from the U of A, and Face-to-Face from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, in third.

ImmunoSense of Ouachita Baptist University, won the undergraduate division while BioPrecision of Harding University, and Never Cargo of Arkansas Tech University, finished in second and third, respectively.

About the Governor's Cup: Since 2001, more than $3 million has been contributed by sponsors to support these teams and grow our state's future entrepreneurs and business leaders, an average of $150,000 annually. The purpose of Governor's Cup remains the same as when the competition was launched 20 years ago:

Promote and support college students in their entrepreneurial endeavors and new venture creation
Encourage commercialization of promising ideas emerging from colleges and universities;
Build bridges between these collegiate institutions and the entrepreneurial community; and,
Become one of the premier business plan competitions in the United States.

U of A Graduate Student Named SMART Scholar by DoD

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — April 30, 2020 

A student in the Microelectronics-Photonics graduate program has been named a Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholar by the Department of Defense.

The scholarship will cover Justin Michael Rudie's full tuition starting in August 2020 and will last up to five years. He will also have the opportunity to spend his summers working at Naval Support Activity Crane in Bloomington, Indiana. SMART Scholars are required to work in the summer at one of the DoD's agencies and labs.

The Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation program, also known as SMART, was created to develop the next-generation DoD workers.

The Naval Support Activity Crane is known as a "modern leader in diverse and technical products aimed at meeting the needs of today's warfighter in the defense of the nation," according to its website.

Rudie said he heard about the scholarship program from his advisor, Shui-Qing "Fisher" Yu, associate professor of electrical engineering.

Yu said Rudie's research at the university aligns with the Navy's current objectives. 

"This fellowship will allow him to be trained at the U of A to gain basic material science and device training from a fundamental research perspective," Yu said. "Then, during the summer, he will directly be exposed to different real-world applications of infrared detector technology."

Rudie is working with Yu and other researchers on a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) project, which he said is another DoD funding venture. MURI is a $7.5 million research project aimed to develop a new generation of infrared imaging devices.

"This project's focus is to make better night vision technology using mid-infrared photodetectors created from Silicon Germanium Tin (SiGeSn) substrates," he said. "SiGeSn is relatively a new semiconductor material which has favorable properties, but very difficult to grow, which is part of the challenge of the research."

The projects Rudie will be working on at the Naval Support Activity Crane will be different, but will share some aspects of his current research, which he said would give him a better understanding of the different sides of his research.

"I'll probably be working on largely device design and devices on Silicon Germanium Tin substrates," he said. "I need to have a deeper understanding on this subject for my own research, so this alignment is beneficial."

He is currently working toward a master's degree but hopes to also work toward a doctoral degree in the future.

Rudie said the SMART program will give him the opportunity to focus on his research, and for that, he is grateful. 

"I see this as my government investing in me, and I aim to be a worthwhile investment," he said.

Rudie said he expects to work for the DoD for about 4-5 years after he completes his master's and doctoral degree.

Learn more about the SMART Scholarship Program.

Physicists Document Method to Improve Magnetoelectric Response

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — June 15, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas physicists have documented a means of improving the magnetoelectric response of bismuth ferrite, a discovery that could lead to advances in data storage, sensors and actuators.

Bismuth ferrite, or BFO, has long been of interest to scientists because its functional properties can be controlled by applying external stimuli; its magnetic response can be controlled via electric field, and its electrical response can be controlled via magnetic field, hence the name magnetoelectric.

BFO is of particular interest because it is one of few magnetoelectric materials functional at room temperature. A limiting factor, however, is the small magnetoelectric response. Enhancing that response would increase the material’s usefulness.

U of A scientists devised a means of improving the response by simulating a situation in which a mix of three quasiparticles creates a new quasiparticle they called “electroacoustic magnons.”

“This mechanism provides opportunities to engineer the size and shape of the material to reach strikingly larger magnetoelectric responses,” said doctoral candidate Sayed Omid Sayedaghaee, first author of a paper published in the journal Nature Partner Journal Computational Materials. Department of Physics researchers Charles Paillard and Bin Xu, along with research professor Sergey Prosandeev and Distinguished Professor Laurent Bellaiche contributed to the study.

The researchers used supercomputers at the Arkansas High Performance Computing Center to create a model that explains the electroacoustic magnons and also explains the dynamics of magnetoelectric effects. Their study was supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Materials Science Researchers Develop First Electrically Injected Laser

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — August 07, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Materials science researchers, led by electrical engineering professor Shui-Qing “Fisher” Yu, have demonstrated the first electrically injected laser made with germanium tin. Used as a semiconducting material for circuits on electronic devices, the diode laser could improve micro-processing speed and efficiency at much lower costs.

In tests, the laser operated in pulsed conditions up to 100 kelvins, or 279 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

“Our results are a major advance for group-IV-based lasers,” Yu said. “They could serve as the promising route for laser integration on silicon and a major step toward significantly improving circuits for electronics devices.”

The research is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the findings have been published in Optica (opens new window), the journal of The Optical Society. Yiyin Zhou, a U of A doctoral student in the microelectronics-photonics program authored the article. Zhou and Yu worked with colleagues at several institutions, including Arizona State University, the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. The researchers also collaborated with Arktonics, an Arkansas semiconductor equipment manufacturer.

The alloy germanium tin is a promising semiconducting material that can be easily integrated into electronic circuits, such as those found in computer chips and sensors. The material could lead to the development of low-cost, lightweight, compact and low power-consuming electronic components that use light for information transmission and sensing.

Yu has worked with germanium tin for many years. Researchers in his laboratory have demonstrated the material’s efficacy as a powerful semiconducting alloy. After reporting the fabrication of a first-generation, “optically pumped” laser, meaning the material was injected with light, Yu and researchers in his laboratory continue to refine the material.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Four Announced as Student Fellows for New Science Venture Studio

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — October 06, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas' Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation has selected four students as fellows for the recently launched Science Venture Studio. The fellowship program is a partnership between the U of A and Startup Junkie, which oversees the SVS, and it will pair students with early-stage technology startups for hands-on experience in market research, customer discovery and grant writing.

The following students were selected from a talented pool of applicants:

  • Gurshagan Kandhola, the chief research and development officer for CelluDot, which won the graduate division at the 20th annual Arkansas Governor's Cup and placed third at the U of A's international student startup competition, the Heartland Challenge
    • "As a scientist who is not only interested in research but also in the commercialization of innovation, this is an excellent platform. I'm looking forward to engaging with early stage tech startups and helping them in whatever way I can, to get them to the next stage in their entrepreneurial journey."
  • Josue Calderon, a former project lead in the McMillon Innovation Studio, who is working toward a biology degree
    • "I have always been interested in both science and innovation, and this program combines the best of both worlds. I am excited to learn what it takes to help a startup company get to the next level and succeed."
  • Giselle Toledo, who helped secure funding for harnessing nanotechnology to produce an environmentally sustainable, passively icephobic coating during OEI's 2019 seed funding competition and is now enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship
    • "SVS is empowering our local economy. Through this program, I hope to add value to our local start-ups to ensure their future success."
  • John Alumbaugh, a computer science Ph.D. student who co-founded Mobyt, a mobile accessible user-oriented cryptocurrency exchange.
    • "What most excited me was the chance to work with promising startups actively seeking funding, as well as getting an inside look at the SBIR/STTR process."

Each fellow will be partnered with an SVS client company to work over the course of a semester to conduct market research, customer discovery, and other duties as needed to reach the milestones the companies have identified for a successful Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) proposal.

They will be an essential member of the partner team and will receive training and coaching through the Science Venture Studio and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation during the period of their fellowship.

Sarah Goforth, OEI's executive director, described the partnership between U of A's young entrepreneurial minds and technology startups as a win-win.

"The fellows gain an apprenticeship in a technology-based venture nearing a major milestone. The companies gain direct support from experienced mentors and connections into the university talent pool and research enterprise," Goforth said.

Goforth added that the program also reflects the value of cooperation between educational institutions and startups.

"Entrepreneurial ecosystems work best when the boundaries between higher education and the private sector are porous. The Science Venture Studio, as a partnership between Startup Junkie and the University of Arkansas, illustrates why this matters."

Katie Thompson, the CEO of Rooted Startups who will lead SVS as its director, said sharing knowledge, resources and expertise is invaluable to supporting a company preparing an SBIR or STTR proposal.

"The commercialization and market opportunity sections are a very critical piece for the overall success of a proposal, and the fellows will be able provide in depth research on the commercial and market opportunities that the company is seeking to penetrate with their technology," Thompson said.

About Startup Junkie: Located in Fayetteville, Startup Junkie is building entrepreneurial ecosystems in Northwest Arkansas through providing no-cost, one-on-one consulting; events, workshops, and programs; and access to capital and talent.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions, and startup coaching. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.

Research Identifies Nanoscale Effect of Water and Mineral Content on Bone

Reference: University of Arkansas Newswire — December 03, 2020

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University of Arkansas researchers Marco Fielder and Arun Nair have conducted the first study of the combined nanoscale effects of water and mineral content on the deformation mechanisms and thermal properties of collagen, the essence of bone material.

The researchers also compared the results to the same properties of non-mineralized collagen reinforced with carbon nanotubes, which have shown promise as a reinforcing material for bio-composites. This research aids in the development of synthetic materials to mimic bone.

Using molecular dynamics — in this case a computer simulation of the physical movements of atoms and molecules — Nair and Fielder examined the mechanics and thermal properties of collagen-based bio-composites containing different weight percentages of minerals, water and carbon nanotubes when subjected to external loads.

They found that variations of water and mineral content had a strong impact on the mechanical behavior and properties of the bio-composites, the structure of which mimics nanoscale bone composition. With increased hydration, the bio-composites became more vulnerable to stress. Additionally, Nair and Fielder found that the presence of carbon nanotubes in non-mineralized collagen reduced the deformation of the gap regions.

The researchers also tested stiffness, which is the standard measurement of a material’s resistance to deformation. Both mineralized and non-mineralized collagen bio-composites demonstrated less stability with greater water content. Composites with 40% mineralization were twice as strong as those without minerals, regardless of the amount of water content. Stiffness of composites with carbon nanotubes was comparable to that of the mineralized collagen.

“As the degree of mineralization or carbon nanotube content of the collagenous bio-composites increased, the effect of water to change the magnitude of deformation decreased,” Fielder said.

The bio-composites made of collagen and carbon nanotubes were also found to have a higher specific heat than the studied mineralized collagen bio-composites, making them more likely to be resistant to thermal damage that could occur during implantation or functional use of the composite. Like most biological materials, bone is a hierarchical – with different structures at different length scales. At the microscale level, bone is made of collagen fibers, composed of smaller nanofibers called fibrils, which are a composite of collagen proteins, mineralized crystals called apatite and water. Collagen fibrils overlap each other in some areas and are separated by gaps in other areas.

“Though several studies have characterized the mechanics of fibrils, the effects of variation and distribution of water and mineral content in fibril gap and overlap regions are unexplored,” said Nair, who is an associate professor of mechanical engineering. “Exploring these regions builds an understanding of the structure of bone, which is important for uncovering its material properties. If we understand these properties, we can design and build better bio-inspired materials and bio-composites.”

The researchers’ findings were published in Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology (opens new window) and International Biomechanics (opens new window).

The computer simulations were performed using Arkansas High Performance Computing Center at the University of Arkansas.

Nair holds the 21st Century Professorship in Mechanical Engineering. Fielder is a Doctoral Academy Fellow and doctoral candidate in the university’s Materials Science and Engineering Program.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 3 percent of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.