Meet the Maryland Innovators Behind the State’s Best 2023 Inventions
Learn about the top tech creations — and the Marylanders behind them — recognized during a recent event at the University of Maryland, College Park.
What do you get when you combine a networking happy hour for STEM researchers, an engaging expert panel discussion and a host of exciting STEM inventions? The answer is one exciting event: the Maryland Innovation Initiative’s Pop-up at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and Innovate Maryland: Invention of the Year Awards!
TEDCO and the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) were on hand to sponsor Innovate Maryland’s Invention of the Year Awards, held at The Hall on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus. Innovation was all around, encompassed by the various finalists and the Invention of the Year winner: a solar-powered system that uses all-natural, partly plant-based materials to extract drinkable water from the toughest environments.
Maryland is home to many talented researchers — in fact, it has the highest concentration of Ph.D.s of any state in the country, while also ranking #1 for its technology and science workforce. The MII recognizes the commercial possibilities coming out of the state’s creative faculty and supports these innovators by serving as a catalyst to both spur exciting startup projects at Maryland’s research universities and ignite an entrepreneurial mindset among faculty. Both of these elements were on display at the recent event.
MII’s May Pop-up with UMD and Innovate Maryland
The Maryland General Assembly established the MII in 2012 to grow and accelerate promising technologies through venture creation at five major research institutions across the state. In addition to funding, MII provides valuable so-called site miner support at each university. These MII site miners help faculty researchers through the process of submitting a strong business-oriented application for funding.
“While these talented UMD researchers may think about their discoveries as something that could help a patient or end user, they aren’t always thinking about the commercial value proposition of their discoveries,” said Arti Santhanam, executive director of MII. “Working with the UMD team, MII helps them in stages; they start to understand their value proposition and use the language of business.”
A natural convener, Santhanam is a proponent of events like pop-ups, which bring innovators together: “Our teams at MII and TEDCO don’t wait for entrepreneurs to find us — an essential part of our work includes creating opportunities for conversation and connection.”
The event was clearly a priority for the flagship university, with UMD President Darryll Pines, Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball, Interim Chief Innovation Officer Dean Chang and UMD mascot Testudo all on hand to celebrate the entrepreneurial community and MII’s impact. Following their remarks, a TEDCO: The Leading Edge series discussion was hosted by Santhanam with guests Kenneth Porter, director of UM Ventures, College Park; and Srinivasa Raghavan, professor and chair in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a recipient of MII funding and support.
The panelists shared key resources and information, highlighting the many innovations past and present coming out of UMD. They all emphasized MII’s essential role in accelerating the innovations of talented UMD researchers into products with the potential to have a major impact. The gathered group noted the creativity of UMD researchers, while recognizing the challenges of moving from the lab to the marketplace. Raghavan shared that MII’s support went beyond funding, citing both the advice and the quickness of MII responses when it came to getting answers.
“I got to where I am by luck and MII!” said the modest Raghavan. Add talent to that list: Last year, Raghavan and Ph.D. student Leah Borden won the 2022 UMD Invention of the Year Award in the Life Sciences category for their electro-adhered gel-patches technology, which offers “suture-free repair for surgery, cuts and wounds.” With MII support and funding, this product is on a path to potentially changing the game of medicine and other industries.
UMD Inventions of the Year
The 2023 awards for Invention of the Year were equally exciting, with these winners in their respective categories:
- Overall/Physical Sciences Invention of the Year: Eco-Friendly Composite-Based Water Harvesting System From Air. The inventors were A. James Clark School of Engineering researchers: mechanical engineering Professor Teng Li, postdoctoral researcher Bo Chen and former Ph.D. student Shuangshuang Jing.
- Information Sciences Invention of the Year: Programmable Creation of All-Natural Plastic Substitutes. Inventors were chemical and biochemical engineering Assistant Professor Po-Yen Chen, doctoral student Tianle Chen and Liangbing Hu, Herbert Rabin Distinguished Professor in materials science and engineering.
- Life Sciences Invention of the Year: Detection of Ovarian Cancer via the Spectral Fingerprinting of Quantum-Defect-Modified Carbon Nanotubes in Serum by Machine Learning. Inventors included YuHuang Wang, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Daniel Heller and Mijin Kim of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Anand Jagota of Lehigh University and Ming Zheng of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
- Quantum Invention of the Year: Low Noise Quantum Frequency Conversion Scheme for Trapped Ion Quantum Network. Inventors were Clark School researchers Uday Saha M.S. ’21, Ph.D. ’22 and Edo Waks, a professor of electrical and computer engineering with an appointment in the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics.
More MII Pop-ups Coming!
The MII program is hosting a series of pop-ups in 2023, rotating among five academic research institutions in Maryland: Johns Hopkins University; Morgan State University; University of Maryland, Baltimore; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and University of Maryland, College Park.
While attendees’ experiences will vary, one thing is certain: They’re sure to gain new connections, new information about Maryland’s innovation ecosystem and hopefully a new energy from being in a room full of innovators and supporters.
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