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Researchers Receive Technology Development Grants

Awards from UMass President to Accelerate Commercialization

Daniel Schmidt

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Two teams of UMass Lowell researchers led by Profs. Daniel Schmidt and Ramaswamy Nagarajan of Plastics Engineering and Jayant Kumar of the Center for Advanced Materials have been chosen to receive two of this year’s eight grants from the UMass Commercial Ventures & Intellectual Property (CVIP) Technology Development Fund. The rest of the grantees are faculty members from the Amherst and Worcester campuses.

The teams’ research and corresponding technologies are considered breakthroughs with the most significant commercial potential. Each team will receive $25,000 in funding.

“These University of Massachusetts researchers stand at the forefront of scientific innovation and are bringing forward discoveries that could benefit mankind in significant ways, whether that is by creating new treatments for cancer, new approaches for wound care or improving the fire-safety of the clothes we wear,” says UMass President Jack Wilson.

Schmidt was awarded for his proposal to develop practical, high-performance epoxy resins that are free from bisphenol A (BPA). This technology attempts to address growing concern surrounding the use of BPA, which mimics the human hormone estrogen. The chemical compound can be found in epoxy liners used in the vast majority of metal food and beverage cans (see an earlier eNews story about BPA). In particular, Schmidt has identified new formulations that show significant promise as replacements for BPA-based epoxies. The CVIP funding will be used to support immediate scale-up of this technology, as well as generate application-specific data to prove its industrial relevance.

Nagarajan and Kumar, together with graduate students Sethumadhavan Ravichandran and Subhalakshmi Nagarajan and collaborators from UMass Amherst, have come up with a novel class of “greener,” halogen-free flame-retardant materials. Brominated and halogenated flame retardants are used extensively worldwide in textiles, plastics and consumer electronic items to reduce their flammability, but unfortunately, they show adverse effects on humans as well as the environment. These compounds have been banned in the European Union and in the states of California and Maine. Nagarajan’s team has demonstrated that flame-retardant additives derived from phenolic materials through environmentally benign synthetic routes show promise in replacing some of the more toxic materials currently used.

CVIP is responsible for the commercialization of discoveries made on all UMass campuses. Licensing of UMass intellectual property generated $73 million in fiscal year 2009, making the University a national leader in this area. Established in 2004 by Wilson, CVIP’s funding to date has provided $1,115,000 in new research grants to faculty members on all five campuses.

“At a time when commercial-development funding is becoming harder to obtain, programs like the CVIP Technology Development Fund play a critical role in converting today’s brilliant discoveries into the products and treatments that will improve and save lives tomorrow,” says Wilson.

In addition to CVIP, the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell has also provided seed funding to the University’s researchers.

“The Institute has given funding to Drs. Nagarajan and Kumar since 2008,” says Pam Eliason, TURI’s senior associate director. “We supported several research assistants for this research team and identified commercial partners that could facilitate moving the technology towards commercialization.”

Eliason says TURI also provided financial support to Schmidt in the past.

“The Institute was interested in combining its focus on finding safer alternatives to BPA with Dr. Schmidt’s knowledge of, and research interest in, investigating options for this application,” she says. “Providing funding for a graduate research assistant for just one semester, the Institute was able to facilitate the proof-of-concept research that Dr. Schmidt needed to justify moving forward. The Institute is also using its relationships with Massachusetts manufacturers to identify appropriate technical advisers for this research project.”

Ramaswamy Nagarajan
Jayant Kumar