Lasers Targeting Cancer

The technology physicists use to control and divert laser interactions into particle beams has largely been limited by the target which the laser must pass through. This problem has restricted the applications of lasers significantly. The flat targets currently being used hamper energy potential and lack control leaving much to be desired for maximum beam energies and lower beam divergences. Concepts such as fast ignition, used to initiate nuclear fusion,  require a laser strong enough to deliver ignition spark at the precise point. This desire for both increased beam efficiency and a lower divergence was the driving force to design a target that can produce a proton beam of a higher maximum energy, a lower divergence than current targets and can produce proton beams not limited by the characteristics of the laser.PhotoNatSmall

The research team led by Dr. Nathalie Le Galloudec at the University of Nevada, Reno, has developed and patented a micro-cone target that produces higher energy and lower-divergence particle beams. This unique combination is dimensioned specifically using small conical targets for high intensity laser target interaction that yields substantially more energy and lower angular divergence than flat targets. This is particularly relevant to fast ignition, small compact particle beams, medical applications, focused ion and/or electron beam microscopes, and also exhibits the potential to produce proton beams not limited by the characteristics of the laser. By using the faces leading to the tip, not the laser imprint or focal spot, there is an impact on the particle beam characteristics. This allows for the laser to be mitigated yielding point source emission size and control like never before and applied to precise applications such as cancer treatment.

The benefits of using lasers to produce ion beams in cancer treatment have already been demonstrated by reducing damage to normal tissue during treatment with less invasive techniques and lowered risks of infection. The control and power these targets would yield is unprecedented and potentially life-saving. This technology would allow for more precise and powerful treatments, decreasing the need for follow-up surgery, and satisfying the demand for more precise tools. The benefits of using a laser to produce ion beams in cancer treatment continues to grow from reduced pain, bleeding, swelling, and scarring to shorter recovery time and this technology will propel how we treat cancer to the next level.

Nathalie realized the potential for improvement in the targets while analyzing experimental data during a similar project at Nanolabs, a UNR spin-out company, testing laser target interaction. Using this information she moved forward by rendering countless simulations to progress the design before patenting the concept in 2009.

This target design is available for licensing. UNR is seeking expressions of interest from parties interested in collaborative research to further develop, evaluate, or commercialize this technology.

For more technical details take a look at the patent and contact the UNR Technology Transfer Office for further information.

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Looking at Nevada Researchers Through a Microscope

Currently when chemists look at a nano-agglomerates through a microscope they are only able to see the nano-agglomerates in two dimensions. Because of this, researchers must make some sort of assumption as to the depth of the nano-agglomerates. As with most anything else that occurs naturally such as a tree or a cloud, it is not very easy to make an assumption about a nano-agglomerates depth. This inability to accurately portray a nano-agglomerate in three dimensions make it difficult to be able to determine how it interacts with other nano-agglomerates.

dri-rajan-chakrabartyRajan Chakrabarty along with Hans Moosmuller have been working for a number of years on a piece of software that attempts to solve this problem. The software uses an algorithm that Rajan and Hans are continuing to improve on in-order to determine the three dimensional properties of nano-agglomerates. Currently Rajan and Hans are attempting to determine the three dimensional properties of aerosol nano-agglomerates. Determining these properties will help researchers determine the affects these nano-agglomerates have on the atmosphere and how much they contribute to global warming.

Rajan began working on this problem as part of his dissertation for his PhD at the University of Nevada Reno. At the time, Hans was working as Rajan’s doctoral advisor. Along with the help of an undergraduate by the name of Mark Garro, the three began developing the algorithm for their software. In 2008 Rajan obtained his PhD and filed a patent for the algorithm. After getting his PhD, Rajan was offered a faculty position with the Desert Research Institute.

Since being hired at the Desert Research Institute, in addition to developing his image analysis software with Hans, Rajan has published a number of papers suggesting best practices for the image analysis community. Hans and Rajan are continuing to perfect their software. Currently the software is free to download off of the internet.

In the future Hans and Rajan hope to sell their software to a microscope manufacturer. The proprietary software could then be included with the sale of the microscopes. Currently Hans and Rajan have been designing their software for 3D modeling of aerosols, but in the future they believe that this software could have a number of different applications.

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Drilling for Profits

Geothermal has become an important source of green energy in recent years and Nevada is said to have enormous geothermal potential reserves. Energy from a geothermal power plant is generated by drilling into structures that bring this heat from the interior of the Earth closer to the surface. The heat in the form or steam or hot water is then brought up the surface to a geothermal power plant where it is used to turn turbines and generate electricity. The costliest and riskiest proposition facing the industry is finding the targets to drill. These almost always occur far from below and laterally away from surface manifestations of heat (like hot springs). So, a sophisticated approach is needed to locate these targets in the subsurface. This is where Optim comes in. Optim has pioneered the use of advanced seismic imaging technology to map subsurface structures in complex environments that are typical of geothermal friendly environments.

satish pullammanappallil optimOptim founders, Satish Pullammanappallil along with Bill Honjas have developed a software that greatly improves on the conventional method. Companies using conventional methods of mapping have about a 20% success rate. Satish and Bill’s software gives driller upwards of an 80% success rate. This video by Bill Honjas and the Reno Gazette Journal explains how their product works in more detail.

Satish Pullammanappallil first began his work on the algorithm for their software as part of his Ph.D thesis at the University of Nevada in 1994. During the same time Bill Honjas, working towards his MS in geophysics, applied the methods to real world data. In particular he used it to image offshore faults running under the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. This application showed the utility of the algorithms in mapping faults without any user bias. After graduation, Satish was hired by Bill Honjas who at the time was working as Geophysical Director for a small consulting firm in the Bay Area doing seismic hazard work and small geothermal projects. In 1997 Bill and Satish formed Optim, a spinout company based on this intellectual property originally conceived while they were at UNR. Along with helping to provide them with matching funds for the spinout, the Applied Research Initiative gave them a small office on the University of Nevada campus. As they continued to build Optim, Bill and Satish licensed a second method involved in earth mapping. This second method allowed them to map shear-wave velocities which can then be used to assess earthquake shaking potential from ambient noise. Shear-wave velocity forms the basis of one of the International Building Code requirements. Optim developed a commercial software based on this technology and were able to license it to the worldwide community of geotechnical engineers. The main utility of this program is the ability for builders and engineers and quickly and cheaply find the “seismic site classification” for any site they are planning to build on without having to resort to expensive drilling which was the norm until now. They then teamed up with the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) to propose and win a project to map shear wave velocities all of urban Clark County Nevada. The project was successfully completed, county wide map produced and now anybody that wants to build in Clark County Nevada simply can go on the Building Department website and look up the lot of land they would like to build on and find out its seismic site class without having to go out and measure it.

Currently Optim is primarily focused on marketing and selling its software to geotechnical and energy industries. They formed a subsidiary called Klamath Basin Geopower that is focussed on leasing, exploring and developing geothermal projects. Their first project is in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

As they have continued to grow, both Bill and Satish have made it a priority to give back to the University of Nevada as well as the community as a whole. Optim sponsors the Reno Rodeo, the Reno Aces, and collaborates on research via grants to the University of Nevada. Optim also funds the “Optim Graduate Fellowship” that provides fellowships every year to UNR graduate students conducting research in the area of geophysics.

In the future, Optim is looking to expand its operations internationally. In 2014 they are looking to open up an office in the Netherlands. Optim is also looking at expand their geothermal operations in Japan, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of South America in the future where renewable energy is needed most.

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Thinking Small in Nevada

We live in a world filled with an ever growing number of threats. Some of these threats include chemicals, explosives, and bio pathogens. As these threats become more complex so must the way in which we detect these threats. Current methods such as thermal analysis, impedance analysis, and chemisorption are used in detection of many of these threats. While these methods of analysis have come a long way, they still have much farther to go in order to be implemented efficiently throughout the country.

Jesse Adams NevadaNanoJesse Adams along with the rest of the NevadaNano team have developed the Molecular Property Spectrometer to address our country’s current safety issues. The Molecular Property Spectrometer or MPS consists of a tiny chip with four cantilevers the width of a human hair and a sensor card to interpret the data. This small chip is able to perform the same analysis as a thermal analysis machine, an impedance analysis machine, and a chemisorption machine. In addition to its utility, the chips size and ease of production make it useful for a number of different applications including checking shipping container for hazardous materials, detecting bio threats, and scanning for IEDs.

Jesse Adams began his research in nano technology at Stanford where he worked with atomic force microscopes or AFMs. During his research he designed a new type of AFM utilizing tiny cantilevers. In 2001 Jesse moved to the University of Nevada, Reno where he started the Nevada Ventures Nano Science program with Rob Smith and Stewart Feigin. While at the University of Nevada Jesse taught a class in nano technology. While teaching, Jessie was awarded a grant to write a text book on nano technology. At the time this was the first text book of its kind on nano technology. Work on the text book led way to the formation of NevadaNano as well as NanoLabz. During the formation of these companies Jessie along with Ben Rogers and Sumita Pennathur wrote Nanotechnology: The Whole Story. In 2003 the MPS was featured in Nature. Soon after being featured in Nature, NevadaNano wrote a proposal to the government to make shipping container detectors. In 2004 NevadaNano began a phase one contract. Since then NevadaNano has gone through phases two and three. In 2012 NevadaNano created a prototype and completed a successful demonstration of their shipping container detector.

NevadaNano MPSSince developing the prototype in 2012, NevadaNano has discovered a number of other application for the MPS including laboratory research, drug discovery, airport swab station sensing, hand-held high-speed sensing, and assembly line sensing. NevadaNano believes that the chips could be built into cell phones, wireless sensor units, and in various military drones. The discovery of these additional applications has lead to NevadaNano being awarded an R&D award in 2013.

Jesse’s second company NanoLabz currently owns the world record for the speed in which they can fire a proton. Currently this method of firing protons at high speeds is used in proton therapy to fight cancer. NanoLabz hopes to be able to create a machine that is more affordable and effective than the current proton therapy machines on the market. In the future, NanoLabz hopes that this technology could be used in fusion technology as well.

Jesse is now working on his third company Nanojems. Nanojems uses a similar technology as NanoLabz to microscopically engrave jewelry. Nanojems currently has a kickstarter up in which they are giving away pendants with the first million digits of pi to donors. Jesse is hopeful that Nanojems will reach their goal of $16,800 pledged by August 27th 2013.

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Caffé Fuel: How coffee could revolutionize biofuels

Plant-based biofuels have been researched and explored since the 19th century, but there has yet to be a reliable plant-based source of energy. Little did we know, the answer might have been in our hand this whole time. The University of Nevada has developed a groundbreaking process to produce alternative bio-diesel fuels from coffee ground waste and Melanie Dolezal, Dharshini D. Balasubramaniyan, and Jaime Schwarzbach from the University have created an early stage start-up from this named Caffé Fuel.

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Bio-diesel is growing in popularity because it is safer than petroleum-based diesel, is biodegradable, and produces fewer emissions. Ethanol, made from cornstarch, is currently the most significant biofuel, accounting for 94 percent of all biofuel consumption. In 2011, there were 1 billion gallons of biofuels produced in the United States alone, so finding an alternate source of biofuel will take the weight off the corn industry.

The process began with researchers Narasimharao Kondamudi, Susanta Mohapatra and Manoranjan Misra of the University of Nevada finding that coffee grounds can yield 15% of biodiesel by weight, do not yield an offensive smell, and can still be used for compost after the process is completed.

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The idea came by accident, when Dr. Misra noticed a film of oil had covered his leftover coffee. He brought on Dr. Kondamudi and Dr. Mohapatra to question the theory of creating biofuel from coffee grounds. With a supply of coffee grounds from the Starbucks on campus, they discovered that coffee biofuel was comparable to other biofuels on the market. But coffee biofuel had a few advantages over the competition; it has less viscosity, requiring little to no engine alterations in order to burn, and does not drive production away from the food industry.


The process they used to extract the biofuel from the coffee grounds involves transesterification, where the oil in the coffee reacts with an alcohol (ethanol) to form mono-alkyl ester, or biodiesel and crude glycerol. Initially, the grounds are dried for 24 hours and the oils are chemically dissolved. “The remaining oil is treated with an alkali to remove free fatty acids (which form a soap). Then the crude biodiesel is heated to about 100ºC to remove any water, and treated with methanol and a catalyst, so that transesterification takes place. When cooled to room temperature and left to stand, the biodiesel floats up, leaving a layer of glycerine at the bottom. These layers are separated and the biodiesel is cleaned to remove any residues.”

Executing the process with 10-15 pounds of coffee grounds will yield roughly ¼ of gallon of biodiesel, so it is better suited for larger facilities. Overall, this process could change the biodiesel industry and it is estimated that the process could add 340 million gallons of bio-diesel to the world’s fuel supply, and could reduce global warming. Once funded, Caffé Fuel intends to set up a pilot plant in Reno, NV and begin selling coffee biofuel as soon as possible.

The US patent will be issued later in 2013 and is incredibly broad. The breadth of the patent provides a great deal of security for the company and potential investors. Questions? Comments? Email Us.

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Ground Breaking Technology in Nevada

Excavators – also known as diggers or mechanical shovels – are used in a variety of applications including demolition, digging trenches and holes, forestry work, heavy lifting, open-pit mining, and landscaping.  Current excavators are controlled one joint at a time and can take operators years to master. The complexity of control is exasperated by the fact that the excavator arm and bucket inhibit the operators’ view of the area they are trying to dig.

George Danko, of the UNR Mining Engineering Department, has come up with a computer assisted control system making excavator control far simpler and more efficient. While current technology uses three different controllers at the same time, these controls are programmed so that the operator can move the bucket along a straight line with one motion.  Danko’s computer assisted controls also allow the operator to program the controller with repeated movements in efforts to decrease operator error and increase efficiency during a commonly repeated motion such as dropping the contents of the bucket in a truck. According to Danko, the computer assisted controls can enhance the efficiency of an excavator by 20% and operators can learn to operate them in a matter of weeks.

While teaching robotics in Finland in 2000, Danko was asked to speak at the International Federation of Automatic Control. He decided to speak on his computer assisted control system for excavators.  Since filing a provisional patent for this technology, Danko has continued its development while teaching at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Along with the assistance of students and staff at the University, Danko has made a great deal of progress towards commercializing the technology. In his lab, he has two robotic arms, an interactive computer simulation of the controls, and a Bobcat excavator fitted with the computer controls.

Danko is currently looking at various ways to bring his product to market.  He recently returned from a trip to Japan, accompanied by Dan Langford of the UNR Technology Transfer Office (TTO), where the two presented the computer assisted controls to Hitachi, a global company involved with excavators and other construction machinery. Danko is now getting ready to leave again for a two month long trip to Europe to present his technology to the Society of Mining Professors as well as the International Federation of Automatic Control.

George Danko, along with the TTO, are looking to bring this revolutionary technology to market by either monetizing the patents through an existing company, or by starting a spinoff company fitting existing excavators with the computer assisted controls.  They are currently looking for interested parties including excavator manufactures, miners, and/or investors.


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EscaZyme Biochemicals wins Governor’s Cup Competition

Immediately following their gold place finish in the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition on March 6, EscaZyme Biochemicals LLC. won the $25,000 first place prize in the graduate track of the 2013 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition on April 18. This competition is open for all Nevada college and university students and aims to “encourage the development and commercialization of ideas and technologies being discovered in our universities.”  (NCET)

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EscaZyme Biochemicals LLC is a specialized chemical company that manufactures component chemicals for use across multiple industries, including the pest control industry. EscaZyme produces chemicals through a new process discovered by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.” Using the Technology Transfer Office,  founders Rubi Figueroa-Teran and Claus Tittiger identified industry partners for their research, during a partnering clinic hosted by the TTO.

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EscaZyme Biochemicals wins Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition

A new company that uses the enzymes of bark beetles to control the devastating effects the beetles can have on a forest, EscaZyme Biochemicals, LLC, was awarded the $50,000 gold prize this week as the winner in the University of Nevada, Reno’s Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition. more…

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Charting UNR’s future: Pressure is on university to commercialize research

As University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson pondered the future of the state’s oldest campus, he recalled how his grandfather peeled apples.

“When I was a kid, my grandfather lived with us, and every once in a while he would make apple pies,” Johnson said. “He was very good at peeling the apple with just one single piece of peel hanging down. My brother and I got a real thrill in the way he would cut that peel away, but what he was really concentrating on was saving as much of the apple as he could to put in that pie.”

Since the national recession struck with a vengeance in 2008, UNR has lost hundreds of employees — including about 60 tenured professors. A number of departments have been decimated, and the agriculture college is a shadow of its former self. And, starting in 2009, the state reduced how much it allocates to UNR’s base funding by $75 million a year. more…

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From the lab to the real world

Tom Kozel has been studying fungal meningitis for years. It seemed like a rare disease until the Centers for Disease Control did some calculations and found it was killing about 500,000 people a year in Africa.

This prompted Kozel and his team at the University of Nevada, Reno to look at ways to change how the disease is diagnosed — and this research, in addition to saving lots of lives, provided a model that could be used to create jobs in Nevada, and brought royalty money back to the school.

The UNR-DRI Technology Transfer Office has the job of getting that to happen more often. The office’s director, Ryan Heck, says that creating a better relationship between UNR and Desert Research Institute researchers and the local business community is essential. more…

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