Spring 2023 Spark Fund Awardees

MIE Associate Professor Randal Erb, ChE/BioE Associate Professor Eno Ebong, ChE Professor Rebecca Carrier, and MIE Associate Professor Yi Zheng are recipients of the Spring 2023 Spark Fund Awards. The Spark Fund supports commercially valuable inventions from university researchers in earlier stages of development – from any field. The goal of the award is to advance a technology or suite of technologies from academia toward commercialization. The Fall 2023 Spark Fund awardees represent a vast variety of innovative and exciting fields, from manufacturing to cell biology to green technology.

Randall Erb

Randy Erb, Ph.D. has been investigating the interplay between material microstructure and properties for over a decade. His key expertise lies in leveraging colloidal physics within advanced manufacturing systems to drive the assembly of mesoscale material structures. He has a strong track record of successfully commercializing advanced manufacturing technologies and was previously awarded a Spring 2022 Spark Fund award.

In the DAPS Lab, he is developing advanced manufacturing platforms that can process phononic crystals into intricate parts at high rates of production. The DAPS Lab leverages colloidal physics to direct the assembly of material microstructures enabling new and enhanced materials properties. Their developments with the Spark Fund award will be used to create the next generation of thermal management solutions.

Eno Ebong

The Ebong Mechanobiology Laboratory studies how blood flow affects the endothelial cells that line blood vessels, focusing on the glycocalyx. The glycocalyx, a gel-like structure of sugars and proteins, converts mechanical forces into biological responses to protect against disease. Shedding of the glycocalyx promotes pathological remodeling, leading to atherosclerosis — the underlying cause of the majority of heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, peripheral vascular disorders, and other cardiovascular conditions that affect millions of adults worldwide — and tumor formation. The lab replicates healthy and disruptive conditions using in vitro systems and live animal studies to understand the flow-glycocalyx-endothelial cell relationship. The goal of this research, supported by the Spark Fund, is to develop a new therapeutic approach that will be capable of intervening in early disease stages and reversing disease progression.

Dr. Eno Ebong, who leads the multi-disciplinary project team is an expert on cardiovascular cell and molecular mechanobiology, endothelium glycocalyx, and vascular remodeling.

Rebecca Carrier

Professor Rebecca Carrier and her team at The Advanced Drug Delivery Research Lab conduct research in regenerative medicine, with a focus on enabling effective oral delivery of therapeutics. They have received the Spark Fund grant for their work developing a mechanism-based algorithm to streamline oral drug formulation. Their algorithm can reduce the need for trial-and-error formulation development with lipids by providing rational guidance on the most optimal quantities and types of lipids to achieve desired drug absorption kinetics. Their algorithm employs a systems-based approach, integrating expressions capturing key transport and kinetic processes to predict overall impact of lipids on bioavailability. The model can inform rational design of lipid-based formulations of oral drugs that suffer from poor bioavailability.

Yi Zheng

Professor Zheng leads the Nano Energy Laboratory, which emphasizes the theoretical, analytical, and experimental investigations on energy transport phenomena and opto-thermal sensing. The lab aims to enhance physical, particularly thermal and optical, properties of functional materials and explore their applications in energy conversion, storage, and harvesting systems, thermophotovoltaics, sensing, thermal diodes and transistors, and passive cooling technique. Zheng was previously awarded a Spring 2022 Spark Fund award for his work developing a passively cooling roofing material to reduce energy consumption in hotter climates. Now, the team has taken technical insights and feedback from that project and shifted to develop a more manufacturable and commercially viable passive cooling bio-pigment paint.

Related Faculty: Randall Erb, Eno E. Ebong, Rebecca L. Carrier, Yi Zheng

Related Departments:Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering