Three teams from the University of Tennessee were selected as semifinalists for the “Nano Idea to Product Competition,” a contest that event organizers are hoping will bring innovation to the field of nanotechnology.
Part of the larger event, Nano Nexus 2007, this competition invited teams composed of graduate students to formulate ideas and impact the field of applied science and technology dealing with matter on a scale smaller than a human hair.
Although emphasis was placed on nanotechnological innovation, teams were required to also assess the market value and economic impact of their finished products.
In such a competitive contest, having three teams representing UT out of 15 semifinalists is indicative of the university’s stature in science-related fields, team leader Jared Fern said.
“It reflects very highly on the University of Tennessee that we are at the forefront of research,” he said.
Fern and teammates Mohamad Kassaee and Ruichang Xiong, all graduate students in chemical engineering, developed a project called “Hydrogen Fueling System.”
“Our idea is a hydrogen fuel cell, but one that can be manipulated by an electric field,” Fern said.
Their project is innovative in two ways. The “Hydrogen Fueling System” utilizes a new nanostructure to provide a more favorable environment for hydrogen absorption, and the electric field that controls hydrogen uptake and release within the system is unique.
“We want to examine this type of material to see if this type of material can meet the Department of Energy’s requirements,” Xiong said.
Another UT team, composed of chemical engineering graduate students Myvizhi Selvan, Junwu Liu, Jun Mo Kim and Joseph Rajkumar, focused on a project that would improve hydrogen fuel cell performance.
Two problems with existing hydrogen fuel cells that the team examined were water management and the platinum catalyst, team leader Myvizhi Selvan said.
This team designed a membrane that serves as a nano-structured electrode/electrolyte interface. The membrane maximizes the surface area of the platinum catalyst and helps with the dissipation of the water produced at the end of the process. Overall, the membrane increases the effectiveness of the hydrogen fuel cell.
Upon analyzing the markets for their products, Fern and his team concluded their “Hydrogen Fueling System” is attractive for automotive companies looking to increase production of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. The “Fuel Cell Interface” of Selvan’s team has wider applications with all hydrogen fuel cells, including hydrogen fuel cells in notebook computers and base-load power plants.
The third UT team combined nanotechnology innovation with a business perspective. Formed by team leader and graduate student in biomedical engineering Stacy Hutchens, the team included a graduate student in business administration, Karen Genung, and two graduate students in industrial engineering, Daniel Miller and Kimberly Williams.
Their project, titled “Apacell,” is a synthetic bone graft.
“Doctors use bone grafts in a variety of fields,” Hutchens said. “It is the second most implanted material next to blood.”
Their bone graft is made of a polymer hydrogen carrier called bacterial cellulose and synthetic bone mineral. According to Hutchens, it has several advantages over other bone grafts.
“The benefits of the bone graft (are) that it does not contain human or animal tissue unlike a lot of current bone grafts,” Hutchens said. “Human derived bone grafts are expensive and there is the risk of disease transmission or eliciting an immune response. Animal bone grafts likewise may transmit disease or create an immunogenic reaction.”
Synthetic grafts also provide off-the-shelf availability and decrease the chance of surgical complications, Hutchens added.
For the business perspective of “Apacell,” the team interviewed doctors across the region to determine the demand for their product. “Apacell” was received favorably, according to Hutchens.
Nano Nexus 2007 and the final rounds of the competition will take place at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., April 2-4. The winning team will receive a $25,000 grand prize.