Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: A sneak peek at ultrafast switches, a project inspired by the origins of life, and more

WARF Accelerator 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 program helps inventors develop their technologies and advance to the marketplace. The latest developments:


Target guided: A potential new drug discovery platform being developed by John Yin (chemical & biological engineering) could be used to create peptides that have the binding affinity and specificity of antibodies, but at much lower development cost. Yin’s ‘target-guided’ method to synthesize peptides is not only an exciting research tool, it could accelerate drug development by leapfrogging the screening activities currently necessary to identify good candidates.

In a few months, the team hopes to apply their method to a target with real human health relevance. Remarkably, the new approach is inspired by research into the primordial origins of DNA.


New pathway: As reported in a previous issue, a UW-Madison team is pioneering a ‘green’ chemical pathway for producing plastic precursors, called diols, from biomass. These high value chemicals are widely used in paints, coatings, adhesives and other goods – a $6 billion annual market in all. All diols are currently derived from petroleum.

The team is led by postdoctoral researchers Kevin Barnett and Kefeng Huang and Prof. George Huber (chemical & biological engineering).

They report that all three steps of their reaction have now been successfully scaled up 10-50x with no loss in product yields. A company based on this technology, Pyran, gained valuable exposure by partaking in WARF Innovation Day and the Wisconsin Tech Council Early Stage Symposium.

Super slippery: David Lynn (chemical & biological engineering) reports “substantial progress” in his effort to advance a new class of ‘slippery’ polymer coatings. One major application of this work is to keep patients safe. For example, applying the antifouling coatings to medical catheters could prevent dangerous buildup of bacteria or fungi. Going forward, the team plans to test how the coatings hold up under prolonged contact with blood.


Watch this space: The emergence of virtual and augmented reality technologies should enable immersive experiences in real-life environments and transform how we learn, game and design. However, rendering complex ‘point cloud’ data is one of the challenges to making this vision a reality.

A new project by Kevin Ponto (design studies; Virtual Environments Group) looks to build a software solution inside a video game engine. Ponto’s approach is radically different from common visualization techniques currently in use. Stay tuned.

Switching identities: Making headlines in the journal Science, an international team led by Chang-Beom Eom has developed a material that could lay the groundwork for ultrafast electronic devices, such as the cellphones and computers of the future. Incredibly, the new material can transition from an electricity-transmitting metal to a nonconducting insulating material without changing its atomic structure.

WARF Accelerator support is helping Prof. Eom (materials science & engineering) fabricate, optimize and ultimately test how fast the special material can switch properties.


Like valium for fish: Aquaculture (farmed seafood) currently accounts for more than 50 percent of all seafood consumed. To meet global demand, antibiotic-free feed ingredients are needed to boost growth rate and cut stress in the fish. A project led by Jake Olson (animal sciences) is exploring how a poultry byproduct, dubbed cosajaba oil, may hold the key.

The oil has now been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties and improve stress tolerance in salmon and other species. Olson reports that best practices for oil extraction and quality control have been established. Next, he wants to demonstrate cosajaba’s benefits at commercial scale. Salmonid industry take note.

Soil symbiosis: Jean-Michel Ané (agronomy) seeks to understand how plants and microbes develop symbiotic relationships. The answer is highly relevant to modern agriculture, with implications from soil quality to the cost of food and biofuel. With WARF Accelerator support, Prof. Ané is developing an improved method to purify and potentially decorate chitin oligomers from soil bacteria and test whether they can be used to promote plant growth.