Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: Power flooring, patient safety, confronting the global water crisis and more

The WARF Accelerator Program speeds the development of technologies with exceptional potential for commercial success. With targeted funding and expert advice from seasoned business mentors known as Catalysts, the Accelerator Program helps inventors develop their technologies and advance to the marketplace. The latest developments:


Breathing easier: Airway compromise is one of the most dangerous emergencies encountered by health care providers at all levels. If not detected early it can cause brain damage and death.

Drs. Guelay Bilen-Rosas (pediatric anesthesiology) and Humberto Rosas (radiology) are prototyping a non-invasive ultrasound monitor that can attach to the neck of a sedated patient to ensure proper breathing. Their system would allow physicians with various degrees of experience to detect problems early, specifically in an outpatient setting, the ICU or the ER.

To date, the Rosas are focused on optimizing ultrasound data collection and analysis. The team reports “very promising” preliminary results, and is on track to complete a pilot study by spring.


Liquid crystal detection: In drug production, purity is paramount. To keep biopharmaceuticals safe from life-threatening contamination, Nicholas Abbott (chemical engineering) is exploring liquid crystal (LC) technology for detecting bacterial endotoxin.

His team recently demonstrated that their LC droplet assay can detect endotoxin from Salmonella, E. coli and other strains. Industry agrees that there is a role for innovation in this space — most current methods for detecting and quantifying endotoxin are based on a test (the LAL assay) first developed in the 1960s.


New fuel cell: Shannon Stahl (chemistry) and his team report “significant progress” developing a breakthrough design for platinum-free fuel cells. The new cell uses a soluble molecular mediator/catalyst mixture in place of expensive metal.

Accelerator support is helping the team pursue large-scale validation and optimization, and the latest design appears to be cost competitive with conventional PEM fuel cells, which are being developed for a variety of applications, most notably transportation.

The worth of water: As reported in the previous Accelerator Pipeline, Kyoung-Shin Choi (chemistry) is optimizing a rechargeable desalination ‘cell’ capable of turning seawater into fresh water. The crux of her invention is a chloride-storage electrode made from nanocrystalline bismuth foam.

Choi is exploring several cell configurations with a focus on maximum desalination efficiency with minimal energy requirements – hopeful news for the world’s four billion people who live without sufficient access to fresh water.


Virus detection: Completing several major milestones to date, Tony Goldberg and Kathy Kurth (pathobiological sciences) continue to make progress designing and testing ‘enrichment beads’ for enhanced virus diagnostics. They report “excellent recent success” developing specially coated oligonucleotide beads capable of removing contaminating nuclear DNA.

Next up, they plan to test the beads on clinical samples (bovine respiratory swabs) of ribosomal material, looking for improvements in viral detection sensitivity using metagenomics.

Preen oil for aquaculture: UW–Madison researchers recently discovered that a poultry byproduct (dubbed ‘cosajaba oil’) has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used in animal feed as a growth promoter. Effects are particularly noticeable in fish, boosting growth and stress tolerance.

Terry Barry and Jake Olson (animal science) are collaborating with various fish farms and aquaculture research institutions to facilitate commercialization. They are modeling equipment requirements and other economic factors with the goal of supplying markets in the U.S. and overseas.


Power floor: A high-profile project led by Xudong Wang (materials science and engineering) looks to turn footsteps into usable electricity. He is combining fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) technology with recycled natural materials like wood pulp and cardboard fibers to create energy harvesting floor material.

Under heavy foot traffic, the potential for high power output and energy conversion efficiency make these materials feasible as an eco-friendly, efficient and affordable technology for green building and infrastructure.

A 12’x8’ section of ‘power floor’ was installed at Union South on campus for several months, harnessing the heavy foot traffic there to run LED lighting. Wang reports that both the floor and the power management system continued to function well after roughly one million footsteps.