Forum drives University innovations toward marketplace

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by Chris Emery

FIRST PLACE: $25,000
OrgCAST: A Breakthrough Technology for the Acceleration of Drug Discovery
Presenter: Hahn Kim, postdoctoral research associate, chemistry
Collaborators: David MacMillan, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry; Paul Reider, lecturer in chemistry

SECOND PLACE: $10,000
HepatoChem
Presenter: John Groves, Hugh Stott Taylor Chair of Chemistry
Collaborators: Marc Bazin, visiting associate professional specialist, chemistry

THIRD PLACE: $5,000
A New Dynamically Reconfigurable
Field-Programmable Gate Array
Presenter: Niraj Jha, professor of electrical engineering
 

In just three minutes, John Groves explained how his innovation could save time.

Groves, a chemistry professor at Princeton University, told a panel of business leaders gathered on campus April 8 that a new technology he helped develop could catch dangerous side effects of drugs in the earliest stages of development, long before they would be tested in humans. Compared to existing technology, he assured the panel, "we can do it faster and cheaper."

Groves was among 16 presenters at the fifth annual Innovation Forum organized by the School of Engineering's Keller Center. Scientists and engineers participating in the forum extolled their innovations to an audience of investors, members of the University community and a panel of judges that, after hearing the quick presentations, allotted more than $40,000 to the top three entries.

"World-class research is performed in the labs here at Princeton, and we will get a glimpse of some of this research tonight," Pablo Debenedetti, vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, told the audience. "There are many ways that this research can be deployed to benefit society and improve our world. One way is to encourage faculty to share their research with interested observers such as you and create opportunities for scientists and engineers to talk with investors and community members about the real-world applications of their work."

The event was sponsored by the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, the Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in conjunction with Princeton's Office of Technology Licensing.

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Following their three-minute pitches, Innovation Forum contestants mingled with venture capitalists and business leaders, including members of the JumpStart angel investing network, which cosponsored the event.

While many entries offered high-tech innovations for medicine and other fields, two entries addressed health and infrastructure problems in remote regions of Africa. Ismaiel Yakub, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering, presented a system for using inexpensive clay filters to remove parasites from drinking water, and Tiffany Tong, an electrical engineering graduate student, proposed a method for manufacturing and distributing solar-powered lanterns to areas with no access to the electrical grid.

"People don't realize how big of an issue this is," Tong said during the poster session. "Many people rely on traditional, nonrenewable resources that are expensive and produce a lot of smoke. As a result, children can't study at night, and many people suffer respiratory problems. We propose using cheap LED lights and housing them in bodies made of wood or other natural materials instead of plastic. There's a huge potential market."

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Sharad Malik and Cornelia Huellstrunk, the director and associate director of Princeton’s Keller Center (second and third from left), stand with business participants Stephen Dyer, Ian Goldstein, Katherine O’Neill, Shahram Hejazi, Saj Cherian and Mario Casabona.

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