Alabama Innovation Fund awards $4.5 million for promising research

Alabama Innovation Fund awards $4.5 million for promising research

The Alabama Innovation Fund has awarded nearly $4.5 million to advance research being conducted at universities and other institutions, providing key support for programs that could generate new ventures and create jobs across the state.

This year, the Alabama Innovation Fund is funding 14 projects at six universities and two research-focused organizations, with the maximum award reaching $500,000. The projects being supported focus on fields ranging from automotive metallurgy to aquaculture and exercise science.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical to Alabama’s long-term economic development plan, and I am proud that the Alabama Innovation Fund supports research at universities across the state,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.

Carl Pinkert is vice president of research and economic development at the University of Alabama.

“These grants are highlighting some of the state’s best and brightest researchers from various industry sectors. Each grant represents the potential for new jobs as well as other economic opportunities for the state.”

At the University of Alabama, $200,000 from the Alabama Innovation Fund will help a team led by Brian Jordon buy a friction stir welding machine and investigate innovations leading to lighter auto and aircraft parts – a development that could position the university as a hub for this technology.

Another $181,480 will advance UA research conducted by Luke Brewer’s team with partner Nemak USA to invent next-generation aluminum alloys from high-pressure die casting for engine blocks, enhancing the state’s profile in the automotive industry.

“Two of our researchers are leveraging support from the Alabama Innovation Fund to help their scientific discoveries more quickly benefit society, which in turn spurs economic development in our state,” said Carl A. Pinkert, UA vice president for research and economic development. “We are grateful for both the recognition and support for our talented faculty.”

FUELING INNOVATION

At Birmingham’s Southern Research, Bob Hergenrother, director of Medical Technology Development, and a team are working on a device that will allow individuals with gait and balance disabilities to safely train on a treadmill. The apparatus is being developed through the Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology (AIMTech) partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Funding is $164,800.

UAB’s Yogesh Vohra is researching diamond-based technologies.

“The Force Induced Treadmill project will help mobility-impaired patients to increase their health and fitness, thus improving quality of life,” Hergenrother said. “The development team and I are very appreciative of the support that the Alabama Innovation Fund is providing to make this demonstration force-induced exercise unit possible.”

Other projects receiving Alabama Innovation Funding support include:

  • The University of Alabama in Huntsville is getting $500,000 to support the creation of its “Invention to Innovation Center,” a business incubator that will work with inventors, entrepreneurs, high-tech companies and others to leverage innovation into start-up ventures.
  • Mark Liles at Auburn University was awarded $250,000 to further research into the development of probiotics and vaccines to benefit Alabama’s catfish industry. Alabama is a major player in the nation’s catfish industry and ranks second among the states in catfish production.
  • Yogesh Vohra at UAB and research partner Vista Engineering received $250,000 to explore the potential of developing Alabama ventures based on diamond-based technologies. Examples include development of nano-diamond coatings that can lead to longer-lasting and less-painful artificial joints and diamond-based sensors.
  • Jianyi Zhang at UAB was awarded $500,000 to develop innovative, patentable and commercially viable biomaterial heart repair products for people suffering from heart disease, such as cardiac patches to strengthen weakened or failing heart muscle.
  • K-T Hsiao at the University of South Alabama will receive $253,635 to develop strengthened layer carbon nano-fiber composites for the next generation of advanced materials for aircraft construction.

See a full list of the 2015 Alabama Innovation Fund award recipients.

FOSTERING COLLABORATION

Created in 2012 as part of the “Accelerate Alabama” strategic growth plan, the Alabama Innovation Fund aims to bolster research and economic development. Projects are selected for funding based on factors such as job-creation potential, the likelihood of successful commercialization and additional research possibilities.

Winning proposals were selected through a statewide competitive evaluation process, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce, which administers the program.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to fuel the creation of future ‘Made in Alabama’ products while also advancing our strategy of stimulating breakthrough research at universities and institutions across the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The program will help us bring in more federal research funding, attract new technology companies to Alabama and spur closer cooperation between businesses and researchers in the state.”

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