UO lands I-Corps grant to explore nitrate sensors for agricultural use
A research team led by University of Oregon chemistry professors Darren Johnson and Michael Haley is among 25 selected for first-quarter 2012 awards from the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program.
I-Corps, which launched last summer, is a public-private partnership designed to move basic science discoveries initially funded by the NSF into real world applications. Each awarded team receives $50,000 to begin assessing the commercial readiness of their technology concepts. Teams also receive a specially-designed training curriculum and guidance from experts from both the private and public sectors.
The UO project will focus on the development of nitrate sensors to maximize agricultural productivity, optimize fertilizer usage and minimize environmental impacts resulting from fertilizer use, Haley said.
The project will be highly collaborative, Johnson noted. Three other team members are Bruce Branchaud, professor emeritus of chemistry at the UO, who will serve as I-Corps mentor; former UO graduate student Calden Carroll, now a postdoctoral researcher, who is the project's entrepreneurial leader; and Augie Sick, who is the "entrepreneur-in-residence" from the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.
In a six-month effort, the team will work with a private company on a proof-of-concept effort to determine if proprietary compounds can be incorporated into a solid matrix, such as polymer thin films, to provide an optical readout that is sensitive for nitrate in the presence of other common interfering anions and natural organic matter.
"Earlier I-Corps teams are well on their way to commercializing their technologies," said I-Corps program officer Errol Arkilic of the NSF. "A number are already building their teams and new partnerships, and they are obtaining license agreements and negotiating third-party financing."
The full list of spring 2012 I-Corps grants can be found on the NSF website.