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2015 Innovation Celebration Recognizes Inventors and Inventions

Awardees Honored at MSU Innovation Celebration

EAST LANSING, MI – From clear solar cells (to be used as windows on cars, buildings and more) to Ag drones to beer brewed with craft-roasted Michigan chestnuts, the Innovation Celebration showcases some of the latest and greatest technologies and startups from students and faculty alike at MSU.  

On April 23, the MSU Innovation Center recognized the MSU Innovator of the Year and two Innovations of the Year. Commended for their perseverance and creativity at the MSU Innovation Celebration, awardees were presented with Crystal awards and cash prizes.

“To create something new, it requires an incredible amount of labor, perseverance and creativity. The innovation, invention and research created at MSU are something that needs to be shared with the World,” said Charles Hasemann, Assistant VP for Innovation & Economic Development at Michigan State University and MSU Innovation Center Executive Director. “The process of bringing technologies to market is a long road filled with trial and error, but we provide the necessary resources and support to make this possible for both MSU faculty and students.”

The Innovator of the Year is Dr. Alvin Smucker, Professor of Soil Biophysics in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Dr. Smucker’s research focuses on water retention of soils, particularly the application of subsurface water retention technologies (SWRT). Drawing on decades of research on plant root systems, Dr. Smucker filed seven invention disclosures with MSU since 1981, earning three patents to-date. His innovative method of improving water retention, especially for sandy soils in arid regions, reduces irrigation demands, and boosts the efficacy of traditional agricultural practices.

The first of two 2015 Innovation of the Year awards goes to Dr. Richard Lunt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, for his development of Transparent Photovoltaics. Transparent solar concentrators can be deployed on existing infrastructure to discretely harvest solar energy. Former attempts at transparent photovoltaics have fallen short, coloring or dimming the light that passed through them. Now, new solar materials can be installed on nearly any transparent surface without affecting the incoming light.  Small organic molecules within the concentrator can be tuned to absorb only non-visible wavelengths, allowing natural visible light to pass through. Solar power is converted to electricity by thin photovoltaics strips. This technology is a flexible and inconspicuous means of harvesting solar energy that can be integrated onto building windows and mobile electronic displays.

The second 2015 MSU Innovation of the Year Award goes to Dr. Merlin Bruening, Professor in the Department of Chemistry. The technology Dr. Bruening conducted research on is a method of rapidly and elegantly generating a high density of functionalized membranes at controlled pH. These membranes are useful for an array of applications related to protein purification. The membrane generation process is easily implemented, scalable, inexpensive, and yields membranes with markedly improved surface areas. Increased surface area corresponds directly with an improved overall protein binding capacity of the membrane. All of these qualities combined make this an incredibly powerful tool for academic research and industry for the study and isolation of protein biotherapeutics.