Engineering at Illinois announces next class of Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows


Mike Koon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

In 2015, Engineering at Illinois announced the formation of the Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellow program to “fundamentally redefine the role of faculty and innovation.“ Funded by a group of passionate alumni, the program allows faculty to rotate out of the classroom and other service to the University for at least year to focus on taking a developing technology and evaluate its commercial potential. 

Rather than taking a sabbatical and working away from campus, the program gives strong consideration to those faculty members who have significant student involvement. Together with those students, the selected Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows will conduct experiments, build prototypes, visit potential customers, study the market, conduct proof-of-concept research, and grow their entrepreneurial opportunities.

"The Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows program builds on our strength of taking new discoveries and breakthrough ideas and turning them into innovative technologies and products to make a difference for the world," said Andreas Cangellaris, Dean of the College of Engineering. "Our ecosystem is one of the many reasons world-renowned faculty and the brightest young engineering minds converge on our campus. The sheer interest by our faculty and the quality of the submitted proposals validate our decision to develop this program. I am excited to see the results from this strong FEF class.”

“While the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, and the Midwest is starting to flourish, but in order to continue, you need to continually invest in its future, both financially and with innovative programs,” said John Thode, a 1979 electrical engineering graduate and one of three initial alumni backers for the program.  “At Illinois we have the environment for world-changing interdisciplinary research and innovation where faculty and students work together to build startups with high impact. The Faculty Entrepreneur Fellowship program encourages faculty to see their ideas come to fruition without leaving campus or their student support. It sends a message to current and future faculty, as well as students, that entrepreneurship can and should be a central and differentiated part of their experience here."

The second FEF class, which the College of Engineering is announcing, includes Jean Paul Allain, associate professor of nuclear, plasma, and radiological engineering; Scott Carney, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Andrew Smith, assistant professor of bioengineering; and Scott White, professor of aerospace engineering.

Innovating bioactive interfaces with atomic-scale additive plasma nano-manufacturing

With the market for biomedical implants expected to reach $60 billion by 2020, Allain’s team will disrupt the biosurface and biointerface technology space by introducing a novel synthesis approach that is clean, cheap, versatile and scalable.  The multi-functional nanostructured surfaces can enhance implant integration with tissue and eliminate, or significantly reduce infection, inflammation, and rejection.


Phase-resolved confocal microscopy

Confocal microscopy is a widely used optical imaging technique.  It is found in diverse fields from biomedicine, where it is used to image sub-cellular structure, to precision manufacturing, where it is used to perform nanometer-scale inspections. Adding quantitative phase-sensitivity provides more precise mapping of sample shape and resolves inherent contrast mechanisms, but in the past has proven problematic and slow.  Carney’s team has developed a quantitative-phase confocal system that is robust, easily implemented and fast that opens the door to new capabilities in confocal microscpy.  

Brightness-equalized quantum dots for biomolecular analysis

Smith and his student researchers are developing quantum dots (QDs) that produce multi-colored light for more precise imaging. The advancement will be beneficial for identifying cancer cells (especially in breast and prostate cancer patients) and in white blood cell analysis. While QD technology already produces three times the colors as fluorescent probes or dyes, it has proven tougher to use.  Smith’s team is developing quantum dots that will not only be easier to use, but also increase capacity to 10 to 50 colors.

Self-healing batteries

White and his team are developing a self-healing battery that will be safer and last much longer than existing batteries. Targeting the ever-expanding transportation sector, White is developing electrodes that shutdown the battery before combustion in the event of battery failure. The addition of microcapsules, which release conductive particles when cracking occurs, and the use of reversible binders promise to extend the life of the battery. A team of engineering and business students will work on the project at the Beckman Institute during the 2016-17 academic year.