Deshpande Center Backs 10 Big Ideas for the Developing World

Today MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation announced grants totaling $1.03 million to MIT researchers working on ten different projects with potential repercussions for the developing world, ranging from “nanosprings” that could store power without batteries to ways of making clean-burning propane from cellulose and other forms of biomass.

The center’s semiannual Ignition Grants and Innovation Grants back projects making their way from the labatory proof-of-concept stage to the marketplace. Since 2002, the Deshpande Center has spent about $8 million on 68 separate projects, 11 of which have grown into independent startup companies.

“We give the researchers working on these high risk, high potential projects the resources and assistance to prove their technologies,” said Leon Sandler, executive director of the Deshpande Center, in a statement. “It’s an investment in the future.” The Deshpande Center is itself funded through an initial $20 million gift from Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, the co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks, and his wife Jaishree Deshpande.

The grant recipients include:

Yet-Ming Chiang, Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Chiang is using advanced materials to create a small, low-cost, portable infusion pump for delivering intravenous and other parenteral drugs to patients.

Utkan Demirci, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology

Demirci is developing a microchip for a low-cost, disposable blood-testing device that can analyze the CD-4 T lymphocyte counts of HIV patients in less than one minute.

Elazer Edelman, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology

Edelman is working on a new, safer way to administer drugs to heart failure patients undergoing surgery.

Gerald Fink, Department of Biology

Fink is working on compounds that boost the efficacy of monoclonal-antibody drugs.

Carol Livermore, Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Timothy Havel, Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering

As an alternative to chemical batteries, Livermore and Havel are studying how to store energy in dense networks of carbon nanotubes that act like springs, potentially leading to products such as watches that run for a month between windings.

Keith Nelson, Department of Chemistry

Nelson is developing a compact, high-power source for Terahertz pulses, a non-ionizing form of radiation which could be used to improve explosives screening at airports and industrial quality control.

Donald Sadoway, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Sadoway hopes to use advanced materials to build a prototype of a durable, low-cost, high-amperage device for storing electrical energy on a commercial scale.

Henry Smith and Rajesh Menon, Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Research Laboratories of Electronics

Smith and Menon are combining optical and photochemical approaches to develop cheaper, higher-resolution, higher-throughput, non-damaging imaging techniques for studying nanoscale structures.

Jefferson Tester, Department of Chemical Engineering

Tester is desiging methods for turning renewable biomass materials such as sugar, starches, and cellulose into clean-burning propane.

Ioannis Yannas and François Berthiaume, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Yannis and Berthiuame are studying protein fragments that stimulate blood vessel growth and prevent infection in wound sites covered by artificial skin substitutes.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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