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OCAST funds commercially viable OSU projects

Thursday, May 8, 2008

(May 8, 2008    Stillwater, OK) - OSU researchers have received grants totaling more than $450,000 from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology through competitive programs that award funding to Oklahoma businesses, universities and non-profit organizations. They will use the funding to help accelerate developments ranging from futuristic insulation for airliners and simple and highly sophisticated methods to detect explosive and biological agents, to green, cost-effective production of fertilizer and techniques that mimic viruses in plants to deliver materials that optimize their gene expression.  

Professors Janet Cole, Hongbing Lu and Yu Mao received awards under OCAST’s Oklahoma Applied Research Support program that backs projects with the potential for becoming a commercially successful product.

Faculty members Allen Apblett, Jeanmarie Verchot-Lubicz and A. Kaan Kalkan were funded through OCAST’s Oklahoma Nanotechnology Applications Project. Now in its second year, the nanotechnology project was created by the Oklahoma Legislature.

Lu, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received a two-year, $83,168 grant to develop multifunctional composites for the interior panels of aircraft using crosslinked aerogels, a super-lightweight, highly porous material that provides excellent thermal and acoustic insulation. Noise reduction will be the primary goal of the project, but Lu also will test the composite panels for thermal insulation performance and structural load carrying capabilities.  

Cole, professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, received $66,941 for a two-year study on the potential of using cottonseed and canola meal, waste products from the production of cooking oils, as organic fertilizers for landscape planting. While the meal is currently used in the production of animal feed, excess meal could potentially end up in landfills, according to Cole.

 In addition to reducing waste, the project could reduce the costs associated with fertilizer production by limiting the amount of petroleum used in fertilizers.

Mao, professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, received a two-year, $90,000 grant to develop a biosensor to detect a wide array of materials, including DNA, nerve agents and pesticides.  According to Mao, the study is a fundamental project, and a development can be achieved by transferring chemical functionalities and bio molecules to carbon nanotubes.

A two-year, $81,166 award will allow Verchot-Lubicz, an associate professor of entomology and plant pathology who studies the way viruses spread in plants, to enter a new phase in her research. Using fluorescent nano-particles, she will investigate the cellular transport and delivery system in plants. Nano-particles will be engineered for delivery to plants, based on known mechanisms of plant virus delivery and intercellular dispersal.  

The goal is to engineer nano-particle delivery and dispersal into plant tissues to optimize expression of host related genes. Results could aid in increasing crop production, including corn for ethanol, or defense against disease.

“OCAST is giving us a chance to establish a real innovation,” Verchot-Lubicz said. “The potential is huge and could affect all sectors of plant biology.”

Apblett, associate professor of chemistry, received a two-year, $83,338 award to study use of nanometric inks for detection of explosives and their mitigation. Initially funded by the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT), Apblett and colleague Nick Materer in the chemistry department developed a reagent based on nanotechnology that can render explosives into non-explosive compounds. Since its reaction includes a dramatic color change from dark blue to yellow, the researchers will use a similar approach to produce test strips and color spots capable of detecting improvised explosives or peroxides in laboratory solvents.

The project will involve the development of simple test strips, towelettes  and inks that can identify improvised explosives or their ingredients; plastic bags with an inside “sensor spot” for screening of liquid products at airports; and tablets for solvent bottles that prevent build up of explosive peroxides and indicate that the solvent is safe to use.

The researchers have entered a collaboration with recently established ExploSafe Nanotechnologies and its CEO, Natalie Menzies, to commercialize the developments.

Kalkan received $46,914 for two years to develop an engineered nanomaterial capable of detecting trace amounts of explosives. The assistant professor mechanical and aerospace engineering is developing a novel technique to synthesize laser-activated, trace-level detection Raman substrates, nano-particles that enhance the optical signal of single molecules. He will collaborate with researchers at Stillwater-based Nomadics on harnessing the nano-particles’ properties to develop detection technologies infinitely more sensitive that any existing today.

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