Past Awards

The Early Innovation Fund is a competitive funding program available to the UMN research community to fund short-term projects that advance early-stage innovations.

Fall 2022 Recipients

Bioengineered Yeast Strains to Produce Unique Flavors in Brewed Beverages

  • Lucas Busta - Chemistry and Biochemistry, Duluth
  • This project is focused on creating a bioengineered strain of yeast for brewing beer via genome editing. This yeast will create flavors normally introduced into the beer by expensive ingredients like hops, thus decreasing the cost and environmental footprint of beer making.

Calibration-Strip Remote Sensing Based Precision Nitrogen Management Tool and Software Development

  • Katsutoshi Mizutaa - Soil, Water, and Climate, Twin Cities
  • Growers are constantly under pressure to produce high yields with less fertilizer. This project will finalize development of a cutting-edge tool that allows growers to apply exactly as much fertilizer as the plant needs, which saves money for growers and reduces environmental pollution.

Low-Cost Genetic Test to Identify Invasive Highbush Cranberry

  • Alan Smith - Horticultural Sciences, Twin Cities
  • The American highbush cranberry (HBC) is ornamental with edible fruit used by tribal nations and others. The European HBC is identical but has inedible fruit. This project will focus on developing a genetic test that will identify and boost sales of American HBC and facilitate the elimination of the invasive European HBC.

Machine Learning-Based Decision Support System for Analyzing Medical Device History and Recalls

  • Soumya Sen - Information and Decision Sciences, Twin Cities
  • FDA’s 510(k) approval process for new medical devices relies on similarities with outdated existing devices, posing safety concerns. This project is focused on developing a machine learning-based system that automatically extracts and creates a device citation network from 510(k) files to study and predict recalls.

Nasogastric Tube Insertion Confirmation Device

  • Jonathan Strutt - Pediatrics, Twin Cities
  • Nasogastric tubes are used to provide nutrition and medication for incapacitated patients, but confirmation of proper placement can be challenging. A novel device, based on pH confirmation of gastric contents, has been developed. This project will produce multiple single-use devices that can be utilized in a planned clinical trial. 

PuzzleWalk - Gamified mHealth Intervention to Improve Health in Autistic Adults

  • Daehyoung Lee - Applied Human Sciences, Duluth
  • A gamified mobile app, PuzzleWalk, incentivizes physical activity and leverages visuospatial learning as a common strength of autistic adults. This project will upgrade the app’s functionality, provide effective mHealth design strategies for this population, and make the app available on commercial platforms for use.

Suture Suspension Device for Sacrospinous Ligament Fixation

  • Rahel Nardos - Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health, Twin Cities
  • This project is focused on innovating a safe, affordable, and re-usable device that can be used for vaginal pelvic organ prolapse repair in low-resource settings and has the potential to gain traction as a sustainable and cost effective alternative to disposable devices in higher income countries.

Synthetic Integrins for Cell-Based Immunotherapy

  • Joseph Muretta - Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, Twin Cities
  • Cell adhesion and mechanics are critical for immune cell targeting of cancer cells. This project will test a first generation synthetic integrin invented at UMN for direct control of cell adhesion in engineered immune cells in order to evaluate its potential for use with immunotherapies against solid tumors.

Spring 2022 Recipients

Blood-Brain Barrier Traversing Beta-Galactosidase as a Treatment for GM1-Gangliosidosis

  • Michael Przybilla – Pediatrics, Twin Cities
  • GM1-gangliosidosis is a neurological disease with no available treatment and is fatal in childhood. To treat this disease, beta-galactosidase needs to bypass the blood-brain barrier. This project will explore whether this gene editing platform and new molecule could solve this problem.

FreeMind - A Wearable Tool Design Idea to Aid Mental Health

  • Jomara Sandbulte – Computer Science, Duluth
  • The FreeMind application aims to enhance existing wearable fitness trackers by aggregating contextual data to better support users in mental health goals—particularly for stress management— by allowing users to learn new insights about themselves based on multiple data points.

LOONBuoy - Smart Sensing in Marine Environments

  • Craig Hill - Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Duluth 
  • Leveraging low-cost sensors for real-time, smart IoT marine ecosystem monitoring in an affordable and adaptable form. The LOONBuoy enables distributed water quality monitoring across urban and remote marine ecosystems, providing equitable data access to communities and agencies.

Submerged Winding of Wet-Spun Fibers with Living Cells

  • Caleb Vogt and Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari – Pediatrics, Twin Cities
  • A new method for 3D bioprinting, invented by the research team, uses cells spun into living fibers. Now, the team is developing a tension-controlled underwater winder that will coil and manipulate the 100-meter-long fibers without the cells drying out, as they would in currently available systems.

Tangible E-Textile Interface for Digital Patternmaking with Soft Goods

  • Lucy Dunne – Design, Housing, and Apparel, Twin Cities
  • Designers often prefer working manually with fabric to develop garment patterns, but digitizing draped patterns is slow and cumbersome and introduces error. This project will develop an e-textile interface that digitizes a draped pattern in real-time.

Wide Operation Range Power Converter With Ultra High-Power Density

  • Peng Fang - Electrical Engineering, Duluth
  • Conventional power converters have poor efficiency under a wide voltage range operation. The project aims to build a new prototype to demonstrate the potential of a new innovation by achieving a much higher power density and much wider voltage range of operation.