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Posted on Sep 7, 2012

Taking the Next Step

Taking the Next Step

Chancellor’s Innovation Fund 2012

Seven great ideas from across NC State are moving forward, thanks to the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF). From protecting soldiers in the field, to stopping the spread of food-borne illnesses and improving smart phones, each project already has a targeted problem — and its solution.

Each researcher or team will work closely with the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) to enhance the commercial value and market potential of research innovations, explains Billy Houghteling, OTT executive director.

The selected researchers also will receive ongoing support from the Accelerating the Commercialization of Technology program, known as ACT, in the Poole College of Management, on strategies to achieve industry-relevant commercialization milestones. In fact, the ACT program participates in the front end as well, making recommendations on marketability of applications received by the fund each year.

Of four projects selected in the first year of CIF, two have resulted in startup companies, and two are still in the development phase.

IMPROVING EMPLOYMENT TESTS

Psychologist Adam Meade dislikes the conventional personality tests liberally used in the private sector. He believes these tests, typically used for cognitive ability and employment testing, can be easily faked.

“Any reasonably competent job applicant will agree with items asking about meeting deadlines, regardless of whether this truly describes them or not,” he says.

To counter this, Meade has developed a personality test based on response time to computer-prompted stimuli — to help ensure that test-takers are telling the truth.

“It takes time to think ‘OK, what does the employer want to hear.’ When you force people to respond quickly, they have less time to be dishonest.”
Meade is creating an online version of his software, and conducting more research to prove those who do well on his test also do well in their jobs. Eventually, he plans to license his product to a testing provider. “This could be a new era in employment testing,” he says.

DETECTING DEADLY NOROVIRUSES

When a bout of severe vomiting and diarrhea strikes a whole family, school or other group — one person after another — a highly contagious norovirus is probably to blame.

Noroviruses are now recognized as the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis worldwide, sickening millions of people every year and killing hundreds. People are exposed to noroviruses in lots of ways, but contaminated food is an important route.

Lee-Ann Jaykus

Lee-Ann Jaykus discusses research work with a grad student in her lab.

Microbiologist Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food science professor and national leader on norovirus research is developing innovative technologies for commercially reliable methods to detect noroviruses in water, food and individual patients.

Oysters are just one example. “It would be great if we had an assay where we could detect the virus in water that overlays oysters and then that would be a better way of protecting the supply of shellfish,” she explains. “The same can be said for irrigation water, for example, for fresh produce.”

PROTECTING DATA CLOUDS

At the heart of cloud computing is the hypervisor, software that allows multiple users to run programs concurrently on a host computer. If a malicious program gains access to the hypervisor, the data of every user in the cloud could be stolen or modified.

Now, NC State computer scientists Peng Ning and Ahmed Azab have a solution. They’ve developed a new security mechanism called HyperSentry that is isolated and protected from the hypervisor, yet has enough privileges to access the hypervisor code and data to look for viruses and other malware.

“It will send a heartbeat signal saying everything’s fine, everything’s fine,” Azab explains. Unless there’s a problem, of course. Then, HyperSentry goes into action, quickly alerting the network administrator.

The team is in final stages of testing a prototype this year and will move the product to market.

PUTTING SWING IN A STEP

It’s no walk in the park for victims of stroke, spinal-cord injury or traumatic brain injury. These maladies can reduce human lower leg muscle strength and coordination and disrupt the ability to walk. The graying of the baby-boom generation and the return of thousands of wounded veterans are bringing the realities home for many families and communities.

Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab

Students in the Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab work on technology to help people with impaired mobility due to strokes or injuries.

Biomedical engineer Greg Sawicki and members of his Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab have an answer: a “smart” walking aid that doesn’t require motors or external power. Based upon a keen understanding of the interplay between the human calf muscles and the Achilles’ tendon, Sawicki and team devised a lightweight, wearable boot with a spring that propels wearers forward after proper engagement of the device’s “clutch.”

Besides its use as an assistive or rehabilitation aid for those who have trouble walking, Sawicki believes the device can be used as a performance enhancer for weekend warriors or soldiers who need extra springs in their steps.

MAKING ARMOR STRONGER

Afsaneh Rabiei

Afsaneh Rabiei checks on metallic foam created in her lab.

A mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, Afsaneh Rabiei is working to improve safety for soldiers. She developed a composite metal foam that is simultaneously lighter and stronger than the materials currently in use in body and vehicle armors.

This foam has the additional advantage of absorbing impact energy from projectiles or blasts, decreasing the risk of bodily injury or vehicle damage from high-velocity bullets or explosions.

“The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund money will allow us to test our armors not only against bullets for body armors, but also against blast damage for vehicle armor,” Rabiei says.

ENSURING DATA EFFICIENCY

Daily data needs are increasing for folks on the go — be it downloading that updated business brief or a critical video of a grandchild going in for a goal.

As the data explosion continues, consumers will benefit as computer scientists Injong Rhee and Kyunghan Lee ponder protocol — transmission control protocol or TCP.

Mobile computing devices utilize so-called TCP stacks, software programs that send and receive packets of data between the device and the network. Rhee and Lee developed a new algorithm, called the “cellular TCP,” that reduces the delay in retrieving data. In other words, the user experience is better.

The team now is quantifying that improved efficiency on various wireless network providers, and using various device brands, in order to market the new program. Along with the technology, they are developing their business strategy, initially for U.S. markets, and then expanding to Asia.

SHIFTING SHAPES OF ANTENNAS

A reliable connection is key to mobile networks today — and more so for the devices of tomorrow.

Michael Dickey

Michael Dickey has used liquid gallium to create an antenna in a flexible piece of plastic.

Engineer Michael Dickey’s research team is developing shape-shifting antennas for use in electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.

These adaptable antennas will give electronics more reliable access to cellular networks. Because they are made of soft materials, these new antennas also could be incorporated into emerging technologies such as stretchable or wearable electronics.

“The support of the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund gives us the resources we need to complete our proof-of-concept research and optimize the technology before taking it to market,” Dickey says.

About the Innovators

Online Resources

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