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Deshpande Center announces fall 2015 research grants

Fifteen research teams receive $1,151,000 to develop new technological innovations.

The MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation announced today it is awarding $1,151,000 in grants to 15 MIT research teams currently working on early-stage technologies. These projects have the potential to make a significant impact on our quality of life in a number of areas including disease monitoring, cancer treatment, imaging, actuators, displays, carbon capture, electrode performance, positioning, anti-counterfeiting, and data communications.

The Deshpande Center, acting as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship, awards grants that fund proof-of-concept explorations and validation for emerging technologies. Karen Gleason, associate provost commented, “The Deshpande Center continues to help MIT researchers defy the “valley of death” faced by so many inventions. The Center supports innovators as they grow and shape nascent ideas into viable and scalable technologies. They provide a unique blend of support, guidance, and personal connections at a critical junction in the technology cycle of an invention and have been transformational to MIT. This impact extends to an even broader community, as an amazingly diverse array of technologies are brought to the market place.”

The fall 2015 grant recipients are:

  • "Exceedingly Small Iron Oxide Nanoparticles as T1 MRI Contrast Agents" — Moungi Bawendi with Oliver Bruns, Jose Cordero, Eric Hansen, and He Wei

This project aims to produce a contrast agent with similar properties to gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCA) but with less toxicity. These new contrast agents will allow patients with impaired kidney function who are unable to use GBCA to receive the diagnostic benefits of contrast enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Ultimately, this research could have a potentially large impact with regards to broadening the use of MRI in diagnostics. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Novel Approaches to Antibody-Drug Conjugates" — Stephen Buchwald and Bradley Pentelute with Timothy Senter and Chi Zhang

Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) for cancer therapy are synthesized by attaching cytotoxic small molecule drugs to monoclonal antibodies, using chemical linkers. The team is developing novel linkers to attach the drugs to antibodies. These linkers should allow for a much more effective cancer therapy.

  • "The Nanosatellite Optical Downlink Experiment (NODE)" — Kerri Cahoy with James Clark, Christian Haughwout, Myron Lee, Kathleen Riesing, and Caleb Ziegler

The team will develop a miniature, low-cost, free space optical communications terminal for small satellites, such as CubeSats. The system will be laser-based and use low power on the satellite and only require a small ground receiver.

  • "Covert and Robust Micron-Scale Tags for Anti-Counterfeiting" — Patrick Doyle with Paul Bisso

This project will develop new methods to covertly encode objects such as pharmaceutical packaging, currency, and electronics using smartphone-readable encoded particles that have a combination of spectral and spatial codes and are able to withstand extreme environments. This would reduce the opportunity for counterfeiting. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Color and Motion Magnification" — Fredo Durand and William Freeman with Neal Wadhwa

This project has developed an algorithm that reveals small motions of small changes in color within a video. The team plans to develop easy-to-use software to allow doctors, engineers, and scientists to create new forms of “microscopes” revealing improved information for solving problems.

  • "Drug-Eluting Platform Device to Locally Treat Pancreatic Cancer" — Elazer Edelman with Laura Indolfi and David Ting

Pancreatic cancer is a devastating therapy-resistant disease. By locally delivering a large amount of drugs directly into a tumor mass via devices, we are able to mechanically contain tumor progression. This project offers the best of systemic and palliative care: dramatically enhancing chemotherapeutic efficacy while improving quality of life. The team is focused on designing innovative technologies to alleviate adverse effects, and potentially convert more tumors from inoperable to operable. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Effective PTSD Drug Therapy" — Ki Goosens with Vikash Mansinghka and Mireya Nadal-Vicens

The team has shown that the stress hormone ghrelin plays a key role in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This project will focus on identifying a drug that can modulate ghrelin, which would provide a new therapy for stress-related disorders.

  • "Electrochemically-Mediated Carbon Dioxide Capture" — T. Alan Hatton with Aly El-Tayeb

Current CO2 capture technology is energy intensive, expensive, and difficult to integrate with existing infrastructure. This project will develop a novel, plug-and-play, and cost-effective electrochemically-controlled process for CO2 capture. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Exploring the Therapeutic Potential of Small Molecules that Modulate the c-Myc Oncoprotein" — Angela Koehler with Francisco Caballero and Eric Stefan

Controlling the function of overactive transcription factors is an emerging therapeutic strategy in oncology. The team has identified compounds that bind to protein complexes containing the prolific oncoprotein c-Myc and found a subset that modulate Myc-driven functions in cells, including Myc-mediated transcription. They will explore the therapeutic potential of Myc modulation.

  • "Platform Device for Non-Invasive Gastrointestinal Disease Monitoring" — Timothy Lu with Jacob Rubens

This device will enable the detection and reporting of gastrointestinal disease biomarkers in a non-invasive and near-real-time fashion, thus providing early detection of inflammatory flares that can then be terminated before they manifest clinically.

  • "Ubiety" — Daniela Rus and Dina Katabi with Joe DelPreto, Stephanie Gill, and Swarun Kumar

While GPS has revolutionized outdoor positioning, it does not work indoors. This project is developing an indoor positioning platform that is compatible with Wi-Fi-enabled user devices (smartphones, tablets) and easily deployable. It would provide centimeter-scale location accuracy for users.  

  • "Shape Memory Ceramic Actuators" — Chris Schuh with Alan Lai

Shape memory materials are solid-state actuators that can produce both large forces and displacements, making them ideal materials for actuation applications in, for example, robotics, electronics, and haptics. The project is developing a new class of actuator materials. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Sublimedia" — Henry Smith and Paul Lozano with Dyer Ash, Dakota Freeman, Corey Fucetola, Jay Fucetola, and Katherine Mirica

3-D integrated electronic components require the stacking of thin layers of semiconductors. Manufacturing of such devices is very difficult as the layers become thinner. This project is developing a novel approach to handling and placing these thin layers, which would allow the manufacture of a new class of components using very thin layers.

  • "Transparent Displays Enabled by Wavelength-Selective Light Scattering" — Marin Soljacic with Chia Wei Hsu

This project explores a new type of transparent display based on the wavelength-selective scattering of light from nanostructures. The advantages of this approach include wide viewing-angle, low cost, scalable to large areas, compatible with existing commercial projectors, and ease of application to glass surfaces. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "Scalable Photonic Links for Ethernet Systems" — Michael Watts with Ben Moss

Network limitations can have an adverse affect on the performance of large-scale computing systems such as data centers. This project will integrate laser sources with silicon photonics to create versatile and scalable photonic links for Ethernet systems which will enable unprecedented performance and scalability. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

Additional information on the above projects is available at

Once again, this year, the Deshpande Center has partnered up with the MIT and Masdar Institute Cooperative Program and the Masdar Institute to fund and manage six projects; these projects are collaborative efforts by at least one MIT and one Masdar Institute faculty member. Please visit the program website for additional details. The funding for the projects comes from the Masdar Institute, with a total of $500,000 awarded to the MIT faculty and another $500,000 awarded to the Masdar Institute faculty. The projects are highlighted below.

  • "Transparency-Switching Materials for Reactive Sun Tracking: CPV for the roof-top market" — Alfredo Alexander-Katz and Matteo Chiesa with Harry Apostoleris

As the sun moves, rooftop photovoltaic solar panels lose efficiency, if they do not track the sun. This project is developing self-tracking solar concentrators that optimally concentrate the sun’s rays as the sun moves. They are based on passive materials with no mechanical components and would increase the amount of energy generated from solar panels.

  • "Electrochromic Metal Organic Frameworks for Smart Windows" — Mircea Dinca, Clara Dimas, and Farrukh Ahmad with Selma Duhovic

Electrochromic windows that can change from transparent to dark reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool buildings. This project is developing low-cost, durable electrochromic materials with tunable optical contrast, fast response at low switching power, and long optical memory. These materials could be used in smart windows to reduce energy consumption.

  • "Integrated Optical Sensors for Fault Detection in Smart Distribution Systems" — James Kirtley, Mahmoud Rasras, and Hatem Zeineldin with Po-Hsu Huang, Jorge Elizondo Martinez, and Colm O’Rourke

Electrical systems need to rapidly detect current overloads to shut down and isolate transformers and other components. Existing sensing devices can easily become saturated and inaccurate. This project is developing an optical sensor that would rapidly detect any current overloads.  

  • "Wastewater Treatment: Integration of Electro-Technologies and Nanowire Filtration" — Jing Kong and Shadi Hasan with Wenjing Fang and Sungmi Jung

This project will focus on the development of a novel wastewater treatment system which combines nanowire filtration and bio-electrochemical treatment for the removal of heavy metals, organic contents, and microbes in water.

  • "Novel Module Configurations for High Efficiency Membrane Distillation" — John Lienhard and Hassan Arafat with Faisal Al Marzooqi, Hyung Wong Chung, Jaichander Swaminathan, and David Warsinger

Focused on highly energy-efficient water desalination, this project will develop a novel approach to membrane distillation (MD) capable of handling different quantities of feed waters and high salinity levels. The novel MD configuration will be a scalable and renewable energy driven technology. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

  • "GaN High Efficiency Transmitters for Wireless Communication" — Tomas Palacios and Mihai Sanduleanu with Puneet Srivastava

The project proposes to push the state-of-the-art in radio-frequency electronics through a novel highly integrated GaN digital transmitter solution with a record combination of efficiency and linearity for wireless communications. The transmitter technology will demonstrate the flexibility of a digital solution by performing multi-standard operation with any type of modulation format. The chip will considerably reduce the footprint and power consumption in wireless radios. (Grant renewed from 2014 grant round.)

In collaboration with the MIT J-WAFS Laboratory, the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation manages the J-WAFS Solutions program sponsored by the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. Grant funding totaling $300,000 has been awarded to the following projects:

  • "Fouling Resistant Nanoporous Membranes" — Jeffrey Grossman with Shreya Dave, Jatin Patil, and Brendan Smith

A water treatment plant needs to significantly pre-treat feed water before it reaches the fragile separation membranes that remove salt or other unwanted species to provide fresh water, or the membranes will become clogged. This project is developing novel fouling resistant materials that would significantly reduce the pretreatment requirements and improve the performance of water treatment plants.

  • "A Multiplex, Nanosensor Platform for the Real Time Monitoring of Food and Water-Borne Contaminants" — Michael Strano and Anthony Sinskey with Ivy Dong, Markita Landry, Christian Rueckert, Charles Swofford, and Daniel Salem

Food and water safety requires real-time monitoring of contaminents at the point of use. This project seeks to develop a single integtated platform that can address many important food and water contaminents in a low-cost, widely deployable nanosensor array.

The Deshpande Center’s mission is to move technologies from the laboratories at MIT to the marketplace. The Deshpande Center grants help recipients assess and reduce the technical and market risks associated with their innovations. In addition to financial support, the Deshpande Center’s network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and academic and legal experts helps recipients assess the commercial potential of their innovations and make decisions that accelerate progress toward the development of business plans or licensing strategies.

The Deshpande Center has provided over $15 million in grants to more than 125 MIT research projects since 2002. Thirty-two projects have spun-out of the center as independent startups, having collectively raised over $500 million in outside financing from investors.

The Deshpande Center is part of the MIT School of Engineering and was established through an initial gift from Desh and Jaishree Deshpande. It is sustained by the generosity of alumni, friends, and corporations. The center serves as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting leading-edge research and bridging the gap between the laboratory and marketplace. Additional information on the Deshpande Center's grant program, research portfolio and other entrepreneurial resources can be found on the Deshpande Center website.

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