Students find ways to use nanotechnology for good, win funds to develop their ideas
Four teams of Virginia Tech undergraduates have been recognized as winners of the 2018 Nanotechnology Entrepreneurship Challenge (NTEC).
The contest is hosted by NanoEarth — Virginia Tech’s National Science Foundation-funded National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology — and the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with additional support from the Economical and Sustainable Materials Strategic Growth Area.
The NTEC program encourages diverse, student-led teams to apply nanotechnology-based ideas to sustainability challenges in areas like public health, agriculture, clean water, and renewable energy. Winning teams receive seed funds to help develop their idea, as well as business development assistance and mentorship.
“NTEC helps students understand what it takes to transition a nanotechnology concept into a solution for pressing societal needs,” said Matthew Hull, NanoEarth's associate director for innovation and entrepreneurship.
Hull started the NTEC program in 2014 with support from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Since then, the program has supported more than a dozen student entrepreneurs, focusing on sustainable nanotechnology.
“We’re excited to partner with NanoEarth to help support the NTEC program; these types of collaborations help connect our robust entrepreneurship ecosystem with students throughout the Virginia Tech community,” said Derick Maggard, executive director of the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
University Distinguished Professor Michael Hochella is the NanoEarth site director and an expert in earth and environmental nanotechnology.
“Nano-enabled products are currently worth approximately $2 trillion per year on the global market,” said Hochella, a professor of geosciences in the College of Science. “It is exhilarating for the students to know that they can actually think about participating in such a massive and important market.”
These four teams were selected for support this year:
Developing passive energy generation using a synthetic mangrove tree
Inspired by the ability of trees to passively transport water through their xylem, a team led by Daniel Surinach is developing a synthetic “tree” to draw water up large conduits via transpiration. Potential applications include pumped storage hydroelectric power generation. Additional team members include doctoral student Weiwei Shi and biomedical engineering and mechanics undergraduates David Morrow, Ziad Rashed, Ricky Dalrymple, and Collin McKenny. The team’s advisor is Jonathan Boreyko, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics in the College of Engineering.
Acoustically active biomaterials
Seniors Lauren Bochicchio, Niki Balani, Michael Johnson, and Whitley Miller are working to fabricate a biomaterial that could be activated by ultrasound to destroy bacteria and treat implant-associated infections. The “BEAM Team” is advised by Eli Vlaisavljevich, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics.
Niki Balani, an undergraduate majoring in biological systems engineering, and biomedical engineering and mechanics doctoral student Temple Douglas are developing a user-friendly method for creating microfluidic devices. They hope to create a simplified process for producing microfluidic stickers, which would allow the technology to be mass-produced and shipped anywhere in the world for on-the-body diagnostics and other public health applications. The team is advised by Rafael Davalos, the L. Preston Wade Professor of Engineering.
Nanoscience and physics double major Nicholas Smith and nanoscience major Brendan Ryan are developing environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional munitions used in military and civilian applications. The team’s faculty lead is Randy Heflin, a professor of physics and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science.