Innovation Impact Case Award: 2022 Awardees

The Innovation Impact Case Award recognizes research that has led to significant impact outside of academia and has made a meaningful difference in our communities.

Award Winners

Eye Imaging for Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
Lead Researchers: Swati S More and Robert Vince, Center for Drug Design, College of Pharmacy

Research led by Swati S More, PhD, associate professor, Center for Drug Design, and Robert Vince, PhD, director, Center for Drug Design, has resulted in the development of a noninvasive, scalable tool for Alzheimer’s detection using the retina of the eye, without use of any extraneous dyes. Small-scale clinical studies have demonstrated safety and accuracy of this diagnostic to detect brain changes. This technology has pioneered the field of retinal imaging markers for Alzheimer’s detection. In partnership with a medical imaging company, RetiSpec, More and Vince are driving the translation of this method into clinical practice as part of a routine eye exam. Read more: "Novel Retina Scan for Earlier Alzheimer’s Detection"

Portrait of Swati More
    Swati S More
Portrait of Robert Vince
Robert Vince

Plasma Technologies for Clean Transportation
Lead Researcher: Sayan Biswas, Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering

Plasma igniters revolutionize the way fuels burn compared to conventional spark plugs. Adding $10 towards the total cost of an engine could lead to hundreds of dollars in fuel savings while producing zero emissions, leaving no carbon footprint. Sayan Biswas, PhD, the Benjamin Mayhugh Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering, and his research team at the UMN, in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, have developed an advanced low-temperature plasma igniter for automotive and aviation applications. Using plasma technology, an engine delivering 35 miles-per-gallon will achieve 60-70 miles-per-gallon with negligible pollutant emissions. Low-temperature plasma produces highly energized electrons and active radicals that improve fuel reactivity, opening up new chemical pathways inaccessible to conventional technologies. Read more: "A $10 Plasma Igniter Produces Zero Emissions and Doubles Fuel Economy"

Honorable Mentions

Changing Colombia’s National Legislation Addressing Intimate Partner Violence
Lead Researcher: Greta Friedemann-Sánchez, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Colombia enacted a new domestic violence law in August 2021 to protect women from intimate partner violence. Major portions of the new law can be directly traced to the research and advocacy campaign of Greta Friedemann-Sanchez, PhD, associate professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and alumna Margaret Grieve, which they launched in 2015. Their campaign started at the United Nations and continued with high-level Colombian government officials. The new law strengthens the Office of the Family Commissioner, the judicial provider charged with issuing protection orders to victims of violence, providing them better access to justice and protection.

Developing Data-Driven Decision Support Tools to Prevent the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species in Minnesota
Lead Researchers: Nicholas Phelps, Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center; Amy Kinsley, Veterinary Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are a real and growing threat to Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and wetlands. From our docks to state budgets, AIS have degraded the state’s ecosystem, economy, and way of life. Given limited tools to respond effectively and efficiently, Nicholas Phelps, PhD, associate professor, Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center, and colleague Amy Kinsley, DVM, PhD, assistant professor, Veterinary Population Medicine, worked closely with managers to develop and implement a data-driven online dashboard, AIS Explorer, that forecasts the risk of AIS introduction and identifies optimal placement of interventions. Their research has bridged the research-implementation gap and is guiding local managers for planning surveillance and watercraft inspection activities, informing decisions by state lawmakers, advancing collaborative science, and improving public awareness.

Investing in Minnesota Roadsides as Green Infrastructure: Maximizing Benefits to Pollinators and Native Plants
Lead Researcher: Emilie Snell-Rood, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences

Conservation organizations and government agencies have increasingly looked to roadsides as potential habitat for native plants and pollinators, but it is unclear whether the benefits outweigh the risks of roadsides (pollutants and collisions). Research led by Emilie Snell-Rood, PhD, associate professor, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, has established that for most Minnesota roads, the risks to pollinators of pollutants such as heavy metals and salts, is relatively low, and the benefits (e.g., milkweed abundance for monarchs) are quite high. Together with current work on roadside plant and pollinator communities, this research is helping MnDOT and other government agencies set priorities and methods for roadside restoration. Watch a webinar about Snell-Rood's research: "Roadsides as Habitat for Monarchs: A Great Opportunity or a Salty Death Trap?" or listen to the podcast "Butterflies!"

New Visualizations Improve the Understandability of Climate Outlooks Used by Millions of People
Lead Researcher: Melissa A. Kenney, Institute on the Environment

An interdisciplinary research team led by Melissa A. Kenney, PhD, from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and University of Maryland Cooperative Institute for Satellite Earth Systems Studies (CISESS) worked with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) to improve public understanding of US temperature and precipitation forecasts through updated maps. The approach uses co-production with NOAA data producers, stakeholder engagement, and control/treatment testing. The results provided actionable evidence that redesigning specific elements of the visualizations improves the ability of both scientists and the public to correctly interpret the climate outlook information. NOAA operationalized these social science findings when redesigning the temperature and precipitation outlooks, releasing the new maps on September 15, 2021. These products are accessed by millions of people annually and are used daily as inputs to agriculture, emergency management, water resources, and energy decisions.

University of Minnesota COVID-19 Hospitalization
Lead Researchers: Pinar Karaca-Mandic and Soumya Sen, Carlson School of Management; Archelle Georgiou, Starkey Technologies

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, one of the greatest barriers was the absence of credible and consistent hospitalization data. To fill this gap, a research team co-led by Pinar Karaca-Mandic, PhD, C. Arthur Williams Jr. Professor in Healthcare Risk Management and Soumya Sen, PhD, associate professor and McKnight Presidential Fellow, Information and Decision Sciences, Carlson School of Management, and Archelle Georgiou, MD, chief health officer, Starkey Technologies, launched the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project in March 2020 to track and report daily COVID-19 hospitalizations from all state health departments. Tracking daily hospitalizations was a major step forward in quantifying the impact on hospital systems, forecasting utilization needs, and disease severity. The project website provides interactive visualizations for the public to stay informed on the current state of the pandemic and is the only remaining source tracking back to the beginning of the pandemic.