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Three College of Engineering Faculty Members Receive Manning/IALS Innovation Awards

Mariana Lopes, Chul Park, Juan Jiménez

Mariana Lopes, Chul Park, Juan Jiménez

The Manning Innovation Program, based in UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), provides grants to promote research and development in the sciences and engineering through the creation of start-up companies. The program is funded by Paul Manning ‘77 and his wife Diane L. Manning, who have committed a total of $4 million to the program with the aim of enabling innovative UMass researchers to not only solve urgent problems, but also commercialize and share those solutions.  
 
“The Manning Innovation award enables our faculty to pursue translational research projects leading to potentially game-changing solutions that that have real-world implications” commented Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Academic Planning Tricia Serio.   
 
This year, three faculty members from the College of Engineering have received Manning/IALS Innovation Awards, worth up to $100,000 each.  
 
Dr. Mariana Lopes, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has received a Manning/IALS Innovation Award for her startup Optical Waters LLC (OWL). OWL, which Lopes co-founded with Dr. Katrina Fitzpatrick (Ph.D. ‘15) aims to commercialize germicidal optical fiber (GOF) to prevent disease-causing biofilms in tight channels.  
 
Bacteria that grow on surfaces can create health hazards in a range of environments, perhaps most notably within healthcare. In American hospitals alone, roughly 2 million hospital-associated infections result in 99,000 patient deaths per year. While chemical management does effectively disinfect surfaces, it requires frequent re-applications, which can result in harmful byproducts and damaged surfaces in the long-term. Ultraviolet radiation, on the other hand, offers a chemical-free disinfection process; its drawback, however, is that it cannot reach into small channels, resulting in disease-causing biofilm growth in those hidden spaces.  
 
This is where OWL comes in. Lopes is developing GOFs to distribute UVC radiation in these small channels to prevent infections and other operational issues caused by biofilm growth. Picture a small glowstick whose light inactivates microorganisms in its vicinity. These GOFs are flexible and can be configured into tight and complex geometries, making them ideal for use in a range of systems and devices, within healthcare and beyond. The Manning/IALS Innovation Award will help Dr. Lopes and her team develop a beta customer-ready GOF product.   
 
Dr. Juan Jiménez, assistant professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, in conjunction with Dr. Karen Giuliano, associate professor in IALS and the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, received a Manning/IALS Innovation Award in support of their project of developing a novel intravenous (IV) pole that improves the safety of IV medication administration.  
 
Approximately 500,000 hospitalized Americans per year are harmed by preventable medication errors, and many of these errors stem from commonly used IV smart pumps. These pumps require precise setup arrangements, and when clinicians deviate from these requirements the pumps can malfunction by pumping more or less of the medication than intended. What's more, these malfunctions are often undetectable, meaning that the pump may outwardly signal it is delivering the correct amount of medication when in fact it is delivering significantly more or less than intended.  
 
This Manning/IALS Innovation Award will support Dr. Jiménez and Dr. Giuliano as they work to develop an IV pole that serves to improve clinician workflow and ease of compliance with setup requirements, thereby protecting patients from dangerous and preventable medication errors.  

Professor Chul Park and postdoctoral researchers Dr. Ahmed S. Abouhend and Dr. Joseph G. Gikonyo in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have received a Manning/IALS Innovation Award for their pre-startup venture NaturaFloc, which aims to bring an enhanced auto-clarification technology into the wastewater treatment market.

Wastewater treatments include a process of sedimentation and gravity separation, which occurs when wastewater is allowed to remain undisturbed in specified tanks for a period of time while particles settle. The efficacy of this primary treatment process is typically 50-60%, which leaves the remaining unsettled particles in need of treatment by secondary processes. These secondary processes, such as the use of activated sludge and waste stabilization ponds, are typically either energy or time intensive. Dr. Park’s project aims to improve the efficacy of the initial sedimentation stage, thereby reducing the burden on secondary treatment processes. To achieve this, NaturaFloc will leverage auto-flocculation, a process that promotes the sedimentation of carbon-rich particles without the addition of supplementary chemicals. The goal is a novel technology that significantly reduces both the energy cost and carbon footprint of wastewater treatment.

(September 2022)