News Gazette: Pacemaker pioneer honored

4/29/2014 1:51:00 PM

Sat, 04/26/2014 - 7:00am Christine Des Garennes

Research will result in self-powering devices

URBANA — A Turkish native whose grandfather passed away at a young age because of heart failure and who has become a pioneer in technology that will lead to self-powering pacemakers received the $20,000 Illinois Innovation Prize on Friday.

As an undergraduate and master's degree student in Turkey, Canan Dagdeviren was developing a type of technology based on piezoelectric material, "which means when you apply stress and strain on the materials, they create current."

But the devices were bulky and stiff, which lead her to the University of Illinois and Professor John Rogers, who works in flexible, bendable electronics.

The Fulbright scholar's recent development is a "flexible, biocompatible mechanical energy harvester," which involves wrapping your heart, lung and diaphragm, capturing the mechanical movements from your internal organs and converting the energy into electrical energy in order to power biomedical devices like pacemakers.

Today's cardiac patients with pacemakers need to undergo procedures to have their devices replaced about every six years due to the depleted battery, which exposes patients to additional health risks and surgical costs, she said.

"This way, we'll have self-powering pacemakers in our body," Dagdeviren said.

A prototype has been developed and research has been conducted on cows, pigs and other animals at the University of Arizona, and results have been published.

"This project was my dream. ... Now it's not a dream anymore. I can touch and feel it," she said, adding that one of her goals was to develop the device by the time she was 28 years old, which she has done.

After graduating from the UI with her Ph.D. this summer, Dagdeviren will joined engineer Robert Langer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will be employed as a postdoctoral researcher.

The Illinois Innovation Awards were announced Friday afternoon at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the UI campus as part of a daylong event celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Innovation Award is given to "one student who stands out as a passionate innovator and entrepreneur, who is working with world-changing technology and is seen as a role model for others," according to the university. It's a program of the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering.

Other finalists for the 2014 Illinois Innovation Prize included:

— Peter Fiflis, a Ph.D. candidate in nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering.

— Paul Froeter, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering.

— James Pikul, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical science and engineering.

— Analisa Russo, a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering.

— Adam Tilton, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical science and engineering.

On Friday, student entrepreneurs attended a panel featuring alumni and workshops on topics such as funding startups.

The energy of entrepreneurship on campus "is significant and it's picking up," said College of Engineering Dean Andreas Cangellaris.

Student finalists in the annual Cozad New Venture Competition presented their ideas and answered questions of judges in timed sessions. The Cozad competition began earlier this year with 118 different teams and events and featured "elevator pitches." The list of contenders was narrowed and, on Friday afternoon, six finalists were named.

Winnings in the Cozad competition totaled $195,000 in cash and in-kind prizes such as legal counseling and software licenses.

Grand-prize winners were announced under two different tracks: ones commercializing university-funded research and ones that were commercializing their own ideas.

First-place winners received $20,000 and other in-kind awards. The winners were Lumenous and Rithmio.

Lumenous uses a technology called "projection mapping," which uses video projectors, software and hardware to create life-like experiences, such as a theater set of a forest, complete with flying butterflies and rushing waterfalls.

Rithmio is commercializing software for wearable devices, specifically a "gesture-recognition system" for baseball pitching, running, weight-lifting and other activities.