Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: Invisible hearing aid, proteins in 3-D 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:


Hearing loss: For many suffering from hearing loss, hearing aids can seem bulky and uncomfortable. The interdisciplinary team of Robert Blick, Max Lagally (materials science) and Burke Richmond (surgery) envision a nanotech-based alternative – an invisible hearing aid placed directly on the ear’s tympanic membrane to improve hearing and sensing capabilities.

The project is on target to build a nanomembrane prototype and demonstrate that it can excite sound waves on the eardrum. To complement their technical efforts, the trio has connected with the UW Business School to help refine their market strategy and determine the major design features of the prototype.

Research tool: A team helmed by Mike Sussman (biochemistry) and J. Leon Shohet (electrical and computer engineering) is advancing a powerful new analytical method that could make a splash in the research tool sector as well as enable biopharma research discovery.

Their method includes short bursts of plasma, followed by mass spectrometry, to study the 3-D conformation and solvent accessibility of biological molecules. This work could open a faster and easier route to developing protein therapies.

Several students from the research team participated in the NSF I-Corps program based in Washington, D.C. The experience has helped the team take a customer-first approach and build a business model laser-focused on commercialization.


Scale up: A plant-derived solvent called GVL can break apart biomass and unlock the valuable sugars within. The GVL-based process is greener and potentially more affordable than other conversion methods that rely on harsh chemicals and costly enzyme cocktails. But is it commercially viable?

A project led by Dan Klingenberg (chemical and biological engineering) is designing an expanded reactor system to determine if the chemistry is continuous and scalable. Since the last update, the team has made “significant progress” on the reactor – enabling greater speeds and torque – and has successfully run a variety of biomass feeds. Looking ahead, additional modifications will support a wider variety of biomass materials and compositions.


Power packed: Reporting “outstanding experimental results,” Dan Ludois (electrical and computer engineering) recently wrapped up Phase II of a potentially groundbreaking project. He is building a redesigned inductance – capacitance filter (referred to by industry as an LC filter) in the form of a single element combining the inductor and capacitor.

This work is important because LC filters help smooth and ‘clean up’ the power from the power supply to the power grid. Ludois’ technology will allow power electronic circuits to become more power dense and cost efficient by integrating the components together (i.e., passive components up to 50 percent smaller and significantly lighter). This could have a major impact in the automotive, aerospace and renewable energy industries as they trend toward lighter, smaller and more efficient components.

Protoype progress: Akbar Sayeed’s team (electrical and computer engineering) continues to make strides designing and building a hybrid analog-digital transceiver system that can dramatically improve wireless communications. Dubbed CAP MIMO, the system boosts data capacity, power and bandwidth efficiency. A recent modification significantly increases the operational range of their 28 GHz prototype, possibly by a factor of three.

Sayeed notes that interest in mmW technology continues to grow as leading service providers such as Verizon and AT&T publish positive results from pre-commercialization testing. His team continues to pursue commercialization opportunities and is exploring possible partnerships.


Color challenge: The market for plant-based burger and other meat substitutes continues to rise, but like meat, preserving an appetizing red/pink color is key to consumer demand. Mark Richards and Sofia Erazo-Castrejon (animal sciences) are examining strategies to stabilize the color and lipid oxidation of meat substitutes containing plant hemoglobin. They hope to keep these foods from turning brown so quickly under commercial storage conditions.