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Clean air research hopeful for use in coal mines

By Seth Richardson

SIU’s most promising research and business ideas from the previous year were on display Friday at the Technology and Innovation Expo.

A crowd of about 130 faculty, staff, investors, inventors and students gathered at the expo in the Dunn- Richmond Economic Development Center to view new technology and business ideas developed by university faculty and students.

The Dunn-Richmond Center houses the business incubator for SIU, where business endeavors are given support.

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Kyle Harfst, executive director of the center and one of the coordinators of the event, said TIE is the premiere way for university faculty to showcase their research.

“The presentations today are discoveries that take place within the university,” he said. “One of the goals of this expo is to try and make people aware of the opportunities for the marketplace. Someone invents something in the lab; how do we get it into the coal mines or into Cisco?”

Faculty research from the event included a method for increasing Internet bandwidth, a non-invasive pediatric catheter and small micro- lenses for high-resolution imaging.

Y. Paul Chugh, a professor in mining and mineral resources, won the award for University Start-up/Spin-out of the Year for his research in cleaning up to 99 percent of dust particles from air in coal mines.

His research is being implemented in the coal mines across the country in collaboration with the federal government. There are five coal companies currently using his technology, and China and India have expressed interest in the research, Chugh said.

He said he was ecstatic to learn about the award and encouraged other students and faculty to be proud of their work.

“I’ve been telling several people, we need to be creative and we don’t need to be shy about it,” Chugh said. “We don’t want to brag about it, but we have to tell the correct stories to the people about what your technology can do. You don’t need to be shy about it if you’re honest about what the technology can do.”

SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng said the expo was great way for university inventors to connect with business leaders.

“SIU is a huge economic driver in southern Illinois,” Cheng said. “Every opportunity we can get to bring together the region and the university to talk about innovation and the future is really an important component.”

City Manager Kevin Baity said he hoped technology from the expo could eventually provide the local economy

with a boost in industry.

“Eventually what we’d like to

see is some of these technologies – after they’re patented and go into production – they can move offsite from either campus or the Dunn- Richmond Center here and turn into production companies,” Baity said. “I think we can provide for them and find them a home where they can stay here where the research or technology is developed.”

Cheng said more than 300 jobs have been created by ideas from the incubator.

However, Jim Garvey, interim vice chancellor for research, said the true goal of the event is to license products or sell the patents outright to larger companies. He said any faculty member could become a millionaire with the right idea.

“What we want to do here is create

more of those opportunities for our faculty to have these small businesses of five-to-ten people have a partnership in the business,” Garvey said. “Hopefully they all become rich after that.”

Harfst said typically a faculty member gets an idea and starts a small business at the business incubator in the Dunn-Richmond Center. The university then lends support through the incubator in the form of real estate, accounting, marketing services and IT for the business in exchange for a portion of the income from the licensing or patent sales of the product.

One example of a successful company coming from the Dunn- Richmond Center is Thermaquatica, a company developed by Geology Professor Ken Anderson. The company utilized Anderson’s research in liquefying coal and turning it into polymers such as plastic.

Technology from the incubator has generated around $5.3 million in the past 13 years, according to Garvey. Senior technology transfer specialist and one of the coordinators of the event, Jeff Myers said technology and business ideas from last year’s event generated $700,000.

Myers said the expo exceeded the expectations of those involved and showed promise of expansion.

“We’re going to try and reach out farther in terms of our promotional effort to draw people in,” Myers said. “We have good attendance from out in the region, but we’re going to try and get into markets farther out than four, five, six counties. We want to try and get into the metro St. Louis area and draw people interested in what we’re doing from those kinds of areas.”

Chief Patent Counsel for ConAir Lawrence Cruz, keynote speaker of the event and a 1987 SIU alum, agreed with the need to expand and said there was a need to change the angle of how the research is presented.

“I think it would serve the university and this department well to invite outsiders from different industries and from different professions,” Cruz said. “So you have people from marketing whose view is going to contrast from people in engineering and people in finance and business investors. They are all going to have different viewpoints about what are strong lead products and what is required to make products successful.”

While business and innovation was the main focus of the event, the researchers were happy to just share their ideas with the world. Chugh said his research was a way to repay the university for all it has done for him.

“SIU has given me a lot over the years,” Chugh said. “I would like to give back to SIU everything I have in me.”

Seth Richardson can be reached at [email protected] or 563-3311 ext.269

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