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NIU visionaries

May 2, 2016
Professors (left to right) Lichuan Liu, Narayan Hosmane, Tao Xu and Elizabeth Gaillard, pictured here with President Doug Baker, were among those recognized for their work resulting in patents.

Professors (left to right) Lichuan Liu, Narayan Hosmane, Tao Xu and Elizabeth Gaillard, pictured here with NIU President Doug Baker, were among
those recognized for their work resulting in patents.

Finding new ways to prevent and treat disease. Improving incubators for premature babies. Inventing a new type of solar cell.

These are just a few of the exciting innovations of NIU faculty and staff who were honored recently during the Research and Innovation Partnerships Recognition Ceremony on campus.

“We are pleased to highlight the incredible work by members of the NIU community who are at the forefront of innovation and discovery and who are working to improve our world,” said Gerald Blazey, interim vice president of the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships. “These faculty and staff members truly are leading the way as innovators and entrepreneurs.” 

Faculty members recognized for work resulting in patents were as follows.

Galliard has patented therapeutic uses of glutathione mimics. The glutathione mimic prodrug is used to administer antioxidants for disease prevention and treatment. Targeted diseases include ocular disorders, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, arterial ischemic stroke, various types of cancers, asthma, sickle cell disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, among many others. Glutathione mimics are also effective as radiation protectors allowing healthy tissue to be spared of radiation damage during cancer treatment. Glutathione mimic prodrugs are virtually non-toxic because they are natural product derivatives.

Gaillard also has patented a method of detecting biomarkers of inflammation in Bruch’s membrane of the human retina. The method helps in finding and diagnosing symptoms of immune-mediated processes during aging and AMD, a common eye disease that leads to vision loss. Through the use of these biomarkers and fluorescent patterns, detection of AMD and other diseases such as cirrhosis, arteriosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease can be made earlier, allowing a patient to seek treatment as soon as possible. These biomarkers enable non-invasive monitoring of the progression of the disease as well.

Hagen has patented the design and synthesis of novel inhibitors of isoprenoid biosynthesis. The inhibitors could be useful in the fight against malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, which are growing more difficult to treat due to the emergence of drug-resistant forms of the diseases. Hagen has developed a series of synthetic compounds designed to inhibit the enzyme IspF present in the MEP pathway found in bacterial and parasitic organisms. Humans do not use the MEP pathway process, so any foreign pathogen in the human body that uses the MEP pathway can be targeted by recognizing enzymes (specifically IspF) associated with MEP. Compounds from this series will lead to improved drugs and other treatments for infectious diseases such as malaria and a range of bacterial infections.

Hosmane has patented a method of making crystalline graphene. His lab successfully synthesized graphene by burning magnesium metal in dry ice. A number of methodologies have been explored in his laboratory to produce few-layer nano-sheets of graphene. This work provided innovative, simple, cost-effective and greener synthetic routes for producing a highly touted and promising carbon nanostructure that could play a major role in electronic industries.

Liu has patented an apparatus, system and method for noise cancellation and communication for incubators and related devices. This wireless active-noise control system technology enables newborns in incubators to hear their mothers’ voices while reducing harmful noises and maintaining communication of infant cries, coos and breathing signals. Unlike passive noise control methods such as acoustical foam paddings and infant earmuffs, the active noise control system generates anti-noise that acoustically cancels unwanted noise. When applied to an incubator unit, the technology offers protection for an infant’s hearing, soothes the infant via parents’ voices and maintains audible contact of infants breathing and cries for medical staff. This is all accomplished without restricting the newborn’s movement or impeding views of the child in the incubator.

Xu has patented highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC). Nanocrystalline DSSC are appealing for solar-electric energy conversion because they can be produced at a low cost, through a simple process and for large-scale production. Xu’s invention significantly boosts electron harvest in conventional semiconducting nanocrystalline DSSC and doubles the efficiency of other DSSCs while maintaining commercial feasibility.

Photo of an energy-efficient light bulbOther faculty and staff recognized by RIPS for their innovations or achievements included the following.

The Northern Illinois Regional P-20 Network brings together nearly 50 regional community college presidents, school district superintendents, state agency directors and educational organization leaders for collaboration to improve college and career readiness. The Regional P-20 Network has been effective not only in building trust across institutions and creating a new level of communication throughout the region, but also in driving action through research and sharing of best practices.

Benson has invented a patent-pending “ultra-rapid tissue cyropreservation method and apparatus.” The successful cryopreservation of tissues is of immense importance to a vast array of medical, agricultural, and scientific applications. Present state of the art yields very limited recovery after thawing for most tissue types. Benson’s device is simple and allows for robust hermetic sealing if needed. Most importantly, it would facilitate ultra-rapid cooling and warming rates for thick tissues that may make possible cryopreservation of many tissue types.

  • Wendy Bostwick, professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies

Bostwick is pursuing research into the health effects of microaggressions on bisexual women. Microaggressions are brief and commonplace exchanges, often unintentional, that can be demeaning or degrading to someone’s identity. Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Bostwick’s work relies on a novel multi-method approach to study daily-level minority stressors among an understudied population of racially diverse bisexual women. This preliminary exploration within group differences can significantly advance knowledge of the risk factors associated with mental health disparities among bisexual women.

STEM Read uses live and online programs to inspire readers to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math concepts in popular fiction. Readers enjoy the books on their own or with school or library groups. They then meet at NIU or online to explore the science behind the fiction through hands-on activities, presentations by NIU faculty and staff, author visits, interactive games, collaborative writing projects and other STEAM (STEM plus the arts) activities.

Lenczewski has developed a short course on groundwater in central Myanmar. With a grant from the National Ground Water Research and Educational Foundation, four faculty/graduate students from NIU will hold a two-week educational and hands-on short course at Yadanabon University in central Myanmar to educate and train local students, faculty and professionals on groundwater development, well construction, well head protection and groundwater quality/sampling. The short course will establish a continuing program in hydrogeology and impact a whole generation of groundwater professionals.

Manning’s work is on Tinderbots—automated bots designed to interact with the location-based, online-dating app Tinder to provide sex education to users. Manning personally developed response sequences and language trees for bot interaction and eight diverse profiles for the bots. He also developed an interactive follow-up game that continues teaching based on previous conversations with the bots. This innovation allows people to interact with a character just as they would others online, making the intervention easy and natural.

Designed as a 16-week experiential program, the I-Lab will allow students to engage in the entrepreneurial process from opportunity identification to the launch of a new venture. Students will be exposed to entrepreneurial tools to help them create an innovative product, produce a functional prototype and develop a sound business model.

  • Geography professor Thomas Pingel and special and early education professor Stacy Kelly for 3D-printed maps for people with visual impairments

Pingel and Kelly will be developing and testing 3D printed maps for people with visual impairments based on laser scans of the environment. These maps will be tested with, and improved by, interaction with people who are visually impaired. This research has the potential to directly impact how maps for people with visual impairments are created and disseminated, leading to more efficient and safer travel.

Gupta was awarded a RIPS Certificate of Achievement for his participation in the Chicago Innovation Mentors (CIM) program. CIM works with science-based ventures to encourage innovation, catalyze tech commercialization and enhance local economic development. Gupta has developed a non-invasive exoskeleton device. It can be used by anyone suffering from uncontrolled vibration of the hand, wrist and/or arm. This approach prevents the need for medicine or surgical procedures, minimizing side effects from medicine and surgery and requiring less medical supervision.