Iowa State awards state economic development dollars to nine projects

AMES, Iowa -- State economic development dollars will help Iowa State University researchers find ways to enhance ethanol yield, fight obesity, improve swine vaccines, detect foodborne pathogens, improve soy biorefineries and develop other projects with commercial potential.

Iowa State has awarded $788,962 from the Grow Iowa Values Fund to nine research projects. The projects are the first winners of a grant contest designed to advance Iowa State's economic development efforts.

A committee judged the winning projects to have high potential to do one or more of the following:

  • Create new Iowa businesses or jobs based on Iowa State technology.

  • Increase sales or profitability of Iowa companies that use Iowa State technology.

  • Improve the products or practices of Iowa businesses that receive assistance from Iowa State programs.

  • Create new Iowa State technology that can be licensed to companies with Iowa operations.

  • Advance collaborative research with companies that have Iowa operations.

"These funds are to support the development of Iowa State University innovations with commercial potential and to help more Iowa State technology reach the marketplace," said John Brighton, Iowa State's vice provost for research and economic development. "All of the projects have the potential to be a commercial benefit to Iowa. These grants will also help Iowa State advance a priority of its strategic plan that calls for the university to make an economic impact by translating discoveries into viable technologies, products and services."

State lawmakers agreed last spring to appropriate $5 million per year for 10 years to Iowa's three Regent universities. The money is to be matched by the universities and used to grow Iowa's economy. Iowa State's share is $1.925 million for each of the 10 years.

Iowa State is using some of that money to support short-term research projects and improve Iowa State offices that provide technology transfer services. Iowa State will use as much as $1.325 million per year during the 10-year appropriation to support grants for projects with high potential for commercialization. There will be two competitions for the grants every year. The next competition will be late this spring.

"This grant will be a big help in pushing forward with technologies we've been developing in our laboratories," said Victor Lin, an associate professor of chemistry and leader of a grant-winning research team from Iowa State's Center for Catalysis that's studying how new catalysts can lower the cost of producing biodiesel and can convert byproducts of biodiesel production into value-added chemicals. "At this stage, we're ready to transfer the laboratory-scale catalysts to the production line."

The grant will not only help researchers transfer their ideas from their labs, Lin said it is also helping students learn to apply chemistry.

"This helps our students to appreciate that what they're doing in the laboratory can be useful to the real world," he said.

The first round of Grow Iowa Values Fund grants went to these researchers and projects:

  • $140,000 to Victor Lin, associate professor of chemistry; George Kraus, University Professor of chemistry; and John Verkade, University Professor of chemistry. They'll work to increase the efficiency, expand the product line and enhance the profitability of the West Central Cooperative's soy biorefinery in Ralston.

  • $106,698 to Byron Brehm-Stecher, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition. He'll work to develop a sensitive, efficient nanotechnology to detect foodborne pathogens such as salmonella. The project is a collaboration with Bioforce Nanosciences Inc. of Ames.

  • $104,064 to Matthew Erdman, a research associate in animal science, and Maynard Hogberg, professor and chair of animal science. They'll research the use of a new technology to develop swine vaccines for diseases such as swine influenza virus.

  • $99,800 to Martha James, an associate scientist of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, and Alan Myers, professor and chair of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology. They'll work to establish proof that new digestion-resistant corn starches developed at Iowa State will combat type 2 diabetes and obesity while lowering the risk of colon cancer.

  • $96,016 to Suraj Kothari, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Srinivas Aluru, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. They'll work to improve a software tool developed by EnSoft Corp. in Ames. The tool allows users of modeling software to easily see differences in models.

  • $75,405 to Johnny Wong, a professor and associate chair of computer science, and Wallapak Tavanapong, an associate professor of computer science. They'll enhance software they've developed to measure the quality of colonoscopy procedures and test the software in a colonoscopy practice. The project is a collaboration with the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., and the University of Texas at Arlington.

  • $73,535 to David Grewell, an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering; Samir Kumar Khanal, a research assistant professor in civil, construction and environmental engineering; and Hans van Leeuwen, a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. They'll study the pretreatment of corn for ethanol with high-power ultrasound. The pretreatment should aid the disintegration of mashed corn and fiber, thus exposing more of the corn starch to the production process and increasing ethanol yield.

  • $71,919 to Atul Kelkar, a professor of mechanical engineering. He will test a commercial-scale prototype of a technology that controls vibration in the seats of agricultural and construction equipment. The project is a collaboration with Vibroacoustics Solutions Inc. of Boone.

  • $21,525 to Surya Mallapragada, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering. She'll study how protein patterning can aid a fast, efficient technology to measure cell health. The project is a collaboration with Cellular Engineering Technologies of Iowa City.