Sprout Grants awarded to seven winners
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 15:04
The Brandeis Virtual Incubator Sprout Grant Program awarded $80,000 in total to seven winners of the 2012 Sprout Grants, according to an April 11 BrandeisNOW press release.
The recipients of the grants have been working on life science or software projects that have an entrepreneurial aspect. According to its website, the program aims to encourage entrepreneurism among members of the Brandeis community by providing educational opportunities, mentoring, networking events and seed funding for projects. Funding is provided by “the Office of the Provost and gifts from members of the Brandeis University Scientific Advisory Council,” according to the press release. This is the second year of the Sprout Grant program.
This year’s seven recipients were chosen out of a pool of 20 applicants, according to the press release. Out of the original 20, 13 were chosen for interviews, presentations and consultations, and seven were then awarded grants ranging from $6,000 to $20,000.
One of the projects may have future applications in homeland security by detecting harmful substances, such as “dirty bombs,” in packages and containers at entry ports. In an interview with the Justice, Prof. Hermann Wellenstein (PHYS), who led the project with Prof. Lawrence Kirsch (PHYS), said that this project is a “spin-off” of research done in high energy physics and would identify dangerous substances by detecting the radiation emitted from those containers. According to Wellenstein, he and other members of the research team, which includes two undergraduate students, are currently building and testing a smaller prototype to verify their calculations. Wellenstein said that the detector could be of use to the Department of Homeland Security or private companies.
Another winner in the life science category are researchers of Hedstrom Lab, who are investigating possible treatment of tuberculosis. In an interview with the Justice, post-doctoral fellow and lead researcher of the project Suresh Gorla said that he and his team have identified nine inhibitors of myobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes the disease. The next step, according to Gorla, is to test the two most effective compounds in an animal model, specifically mice. Gorla said that he aims to develop a compound within the next year that can kill the bacteria in mice and later seek funding from philanthropic organizations. The ultimate goal is to produce an affordable and short course of drugs to patients, especially in developing countries.
Gorla said that the Sprout Grant is very useful to him and other post-doctoral students who have ideas and that “this kind of little supplementation will give big results.”
One software project, titled the “Point of Originality,” was headed by Academic Technology Architect and Lecturer in Computer Science Johann Larusson and is a learning analytic tool aimed at assisting professors assess student’s understanding of material taught in class. According to Larusson in an interview with the Justice, the tool can be fed any writing assignment for a course and a few key topic words inputed by the user. Using an algorithm, the tool conveys how well a student understands the material he or she is writing about.
Larusson said that the tool is aimed at assisting professors who teach large lecture courses that focus on reading and writing assignments. The name of the program derives from the tool’s aim to assess a student’s understanding by analyzing the originality of the student’s writing, which is a sign of comprehension.
Larusson said that he hopes the tool will gain “widespread adoption” and that it will become an “instructive piece” in the University’s collection of measures it can use to promote higher learning.
CampusBash, another software project, aims to connect students to events happening on and around their campuses. According to Murtaza Jafferji ’12 in a Jan. 30 Justice article, the site has had over 19,000 hits, with over 1,900 members at both Brandeis and at the University of Pennsylvania. In an interview with the Justice, one of the programmers of the website, Jafferji said that with the Sprout Grant money, he and other members of the CampusBash team will work to improve the interface and the user-experience to make the website more user-friendly. If those enhancements are made, said Jafferji, it will make the website more “fun and easy to use.”
Out of the seven grant winners, three were from the software category and four were from the life sciences category, according to the BrandeisNOW press release. Among the winners were a research team at Turrigiano Lab who are building a microscope to view “extremely cold” samples in order to analyze rewiring of the brain, a research team at Lau Lab that is developing a research tool in conditional gene silencing and Innermost Labs, a team that developed a mobile application that acts as a social network application and virtual business card.
In the press release, Associate Provost for Innovation and Executive Director of the Office of Technology Licensing Irene Abrams said that the number of applications in the software category increased this year due to increased efforts to promote entrepreneurism in the Computer Science department. Abrams could not be reached for comment by press time.
Correction: The name of one of the members of the CampusBash team is Murtaza Jafferji not Murtaza Jafferi.