Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: Super slippery coatings, flexible electronics 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:


Research tool: Mike Sussman (biochemistry) and J. Leon Shohet (electrical and computer engineering) lead a team advancing a powerful new method for studying proteins and other biological molecules like never before. This work could be a game-changer in the research tool sector and enable biopharma research discovery. Eventually, it could open a faster and easier route to developing protein therapies.

To complement their technical progress, the team recently completed the NSF I-Corps program where they conducted in-depth customer discovery interviews with leading players in the pharma and biotech space. They are working with the UW Business School to build a financial model, and have partnered with WiSolve – a nonprofit consulting group on campus – to continue market research and validation work.


Slippery coating: A project from David Lynn (chemical & biological engineering) looks to advance a new class of ‘slippery’ polymer coatings to help keep patients safe. He wants to apply the coatings to medical catheters to prevent dangerous biofilm formation and microbial infections, which occur when bacteria or fungi take hold on conventional materials.

Lynn’s group recently engaged a commercial partner to conduct outside testing and evaluation of their sample product.


Power floor: In August, Xudong Wang (materials science and engineering) wrapped up his project that proved footsteps can be transformed into usable electricity. AP support helped Wang build and demonstrate an energy harvesting floor, which combines recycled natural materials like wood pulp and cardboard fiber with state-of-the-art nanogenerator technology.

A section of ‘power floor’ was installed at Union South on campus for several months last year, and successfully harnessed the heavy foot traffic there to run LED lighting. One surprising aspect of the project was the ability to track people’s traffic patterns, which opens up a number of potential smart building opportunities. More recently, the team went through the national I-Corps program, conducting more than 100 potential customer interviews. Wang reports “positive feedback” and is now exploring a larger-scale demonstration with a commercial partner.

Next-generation electronics: Tomorrow’s electronics may be stretched, woven and bent into new types of displays. Efficiency will be high and battery life unparalleled. To make this vision a reality, Michael Arnold and Padma Gopalan (materials science) are working to break our reliance on brittle silicon.

The team is reaching the end of their current AP project, in which they pioneered a process to create transistors out of semiconducting carbon nanotubes. By one metric, the new transistors outperform state-of-the-art designs up to a thousandfold.

Their work has generated commercial interest, including a license, as well as media coverage (exciting stories on outperforming silicon and prolonging battery life). Looking ahead, they will continue to pursue commercialization with the support of WARF and the AP team.


Charged up: A team led by Mark Etzel (food science) is developing charged ultrafiltration membranes they hope will change the way food proteins are manufactured. Accelerator support is helping them validate new filter technology that increases throughput while cutting cost and maintenance requirements.

They have met with commercial leaders in this space, and are on track to perform pilot trials with an industry partner in the Center for Dairy Research Pilot Plant at UW–Madison before the end of the year.