Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

Warf News & Media

Technology Monitor: Building at nanoscale, pushing the speed limit, meat substitutes 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, WARF Accelerator helps inventors develop their technologies and advance to the marketplace. The latest developments:


Companion health: Susannah Sample and Peter Muir from the School of Veterinary Medicine are leading a genomic sequencing project to understand why many Labrador retrievers develop a serious respiratory disease as they age.

Their team has completed sampling and isolation of DNA, and by the end of the year hope to discover a mutation responsible for the disease. The next step would be the commercialization of a genetic test for at-risk canines.

Not so impossible foods: The market for plant-based burger and other meat substitutes is soaring. But just like meat, retaining an appetizing red/pink color is key to consumer demand. Mark Richards and Sofia Erazo (animal sciences) look to stabilize the color and lipid oxidation of meat substitutes containing plant hemoglobin with the goal of delaying browning during storage.

Erazo recently participated in D2P’s Innovation to Market course and is conducting interviews with target customers to refine the value proposition of their product.

Charged up: Mark Etzel (food science) and his group are on track to develop charged ultrafiltration membranes that improve the way food proteins – even infant formula – are manufactured. Since the project’s inception they have achieved a 1,500x scale-up from the lab bench to pilot plant and slashed processing time to under an hour.

Recently the team was invited to speak at a forum featuring key players in the sector. Prof. Etzel reports high interest and broad visibility for the technology.


Target: Work is underway to advance a potential new drug discovery platform that, remarkably, is inspired by the primordial origins of DNA. The method involves a ‘target-guided’ approach to synthesize peptides. Not only is this a fascinating research frontier, it could accelerate drug development by leapfrogging the screening activities currently necessary to identify therapeutic candidates.

John Yin (chemical & biological engineering) leads the project and plans to apply the method to a target with real human health relevance by the end of the year. If successful, the platform could be used to create peptides with the binding affinity and specificity of antibodies but at dramatically lower cost.


Desalination battery: Kyoung-Shin Choi (chemistry) reports “significant progress” in her quest to develop a rechargeable desalination cell capable of turning seawater into fresh water. Her design uses bismuth as a chloride-storage electrode and, unlike other tech on the market, is membrane-free and consumes almost negligible electrical energy.

A member of Choi’s team recently attended the Tech Connect conference in Boston along with WARF staff, and was able to interact with potential commercial partners.

New pathway: High value plastic precursors called diols are widely used in paints, coatings, adhesives and other goods – part of a $6 billion annual market. Today, these chemicals are derived entirely from petroleum, but a UW-Madison team wants to change that.

Kevin Barnett, Kefeng Huang and Prof. George Huber (chemical and biological engineering) have pioneered a ‘green’ chemical pathway for producing diols from biomass. They have formed a company (Pyran) to take this technology to the next step, and been awarded substantial grant funding.


Sub-5: Block copolymer lithography is one of the most powerful technologies of the digital era, allowing millions of nanoscale components to be fabricated on a single chip. There is an increasing need, specifically in the semiconductor industry, to achieve ever smaller dimensions and enable fabrication of sub-5 nanometer features.

A project by Padma Gopalan (materials science & engineering) aims to find a solution that, to date, has evaded industry giants such as Intel and Micron. Her team has identified and scaled up a novel synthetic route, resolving essential challenges in the process. Stay tuned.

Switching identities: A team led by Chang-Beom Eom (materials science & engineering) is on track to advance 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 a transmitting metal to a nonconducting insulating material without changing its atomic structure.

This research was featured in the journal Science last year. Looking ahead, the team is reaching all milestones, including optimizing growth conditions and raising the operating temperature of the device above room temperature – a critical step towards commercial viability.