Innovation Campus speeds medical discovery to market
Where can health-related startups go to fabricate a prototype device, get a mobile app made, or use a high-tech clean room?
In the past, they would have gone out of state. Today, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus has brought these services to the Milwaukee area.
Located across the street from Milwaukee’s regional medical complex in Wauwatosa, Innovation Campus is more than just a technology park.
The 72-acre campus, which has received more than $6 million in gifts from local philanthropists and foundations, promises to accelerate the pace of biomedical product development through collaboration.
“The idea is to bring together the academic lab bench with clinical needs, and then combine that with private companies to get new knowledge into the marketplace,” says David Gilbert, executive president of Innovation Campus and president of both the UWM Foundation and UWM Real Estate Foundation.
“With this translational approach, you can really create economic development.”
The campus’ first research building, the Innovation Accelerator, opened last May and houses an interdisciplinary collection of research labs, a rapid prototyping center, and high-speed computing services provided by the Milwaukee Institute.
UWM researchers on site include faculty working on less invasive medical devices, assistive technologies and advanced materials for diagnostic biosensors.
“The world lags behind in using nanotechnology in medical applications,” says UWM engineer Junhong Chen. “That’s because it requires a closer working relationship between engineers and health care providers.”
Chen has partnered with Dr. Lyndon Hernandez, a gastroenterologist who conducts research at the nearby Medical College of Wisconsin, to develop sensors that can help patients manage conditions such as acid reflux disease.
The pair plan to produce these sensors on a computer chip to demonstrate how inexpensive they could be – perhaps as little as a penny a sensor if produced in bulk.
Another UWM researcher, Brooke Slavens, has partnered with a startup company to test a manual wheelchair with a multi-geared wheel system that makes it easier for wheelchair users to propel themselves.
Slavens, an assistant professor of Occupational Science & Technology, is testing the prototype at the Zablocki VA Medical Center to determine if it will help alleviate the arm pain that often occurs with patients who depend on wheelchairs for mobility.
Welcoming the private sector
A significant portion of the Innovation Campus property is reserved for private-sector development, providing space for companies interested in the collaborative environment.
The global engineering company ABB has already moved its operations in Southeastern Wisconsin to a new 95,000-square-foot building on the grounds. Tenants in the accelerator building include the iconic industrial design company Brook Stevens and Concordia University Drug Discovery.
By the end of this year, an extended-stay hotel is slated to open, along with a 200-unit apartment development by the Mandel Group. A second UWM research building is also in the works.
Microgrids: a revolutionary shift in access to energy
Tucked away in a small industrial area of Milwaukee lies a prototype of the future of energy distribution.
Called a microgrid, the experimental technology promises to integrate diverse energy sources into the national electrical grid where they can feed energy-hungry homes and businesses.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee electrical engineer Adel Nasiri is addressing the challenges that keep microgrids from entry into a market that is projected to generate revenues of $3 billion by 2017.
The timing is right. Recent advances are making alternative energy sources like natural gas, solar cells and even wind turbines more cost-efficient. But because they generate and distribute energy in different ways, these various sources must be made compatible with the nation’s existing grid.
Integration: a balancing act
While microgrids can add power generated by new sources into the grid, they are also freestanding power sources that can provide uninterrupted power to a limited surrounding area.
Nasiri’s microgrid test bed – the most complex among the few in Wisconsin – will demonstrate new energy control and storage methods, while also integrating multiple types of energy, including renewables.
Currently, the electrical grid is designed to use energy dispatched from power plants that can adjust their output to match user demand. Output is not as adjustable with other energy sources like wind, solar and batteries.
“In adding these other sources, we will need to ‘smooth out’ the intermittent power that each generates, in order to keep the output-demand in balance,” says Nasiri, a professor in the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences.
Wind turbines, for example, generate electricity only when the wind is blowing. But in most places, the wind blows more often at night when demand for electricity is low. Nasiri’s patented technology allows energy produced when demand is low to be stored and then released when the demand is high.
Why industries are interested
The switch to microgrid energy distribution will be dramatic, equivalent to how the leap from landline to cell phone communication revolutionized the telecomm industry, says Alan Perlstein, executive director and CEO of the Midwest Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC), which is a funder of the UWM research.
Perfecting microgrid technology would strengthen an industry cluster that already exists in the Midwest.
“The region has a large footprint in energy, power and control,” says Perlstein. “The size and growth of that sector makes the Midwest the North American center for the field.”
The first piece of UWM’s microgrid system is a 100-foot-high, 10-kilowatt wind turbine erected in a parking lot near UWM’s Kenwood campus. The system eventually will combine power generated from wind, solar, natural gas and batteries.
Six of M-WERC’s 80 industry members are contributing parts, including Kohler, Rockwell Automation, LEM, Odyne, Eaton Corporation and ZBB Energy Corp.
The university’s state-of-the-art test bed will give regional companies a first look at the compatibility of their parts.