Category: Education

$1 million gift to BioFrontiers Institute to aid CU grad students

BOULDER — A couple in California has given a $1 million gift to the University of Colorado’s BioFrontiers Institute in Boulder to establish a fund for graduate students participating in an interdisciplinary bioscience program.

John F. Milligan and Kathryn Bradford-Milligan’s gift will start the Olke C. Uhlenbeck Endowed Graduate Fund that will support first-year grad students pursuing doctorates in one of nine academic departments and includes additional coursework in interdisciplinary bioscience.

The fellowship is intended to fund each recipient for a two-year period for roughly $55,000 and is expected to be awarded every other year beginning in fall 2016.

The funding will support tuition and stipend costs for first-year graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees as part of the BioFrontiers IQ Biology PhD Certificate program.

Milligan is president and chief of California-based Gilead Sciences Inc. that has operations in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The biopharma company is focused on discovering, developing and commercializing therapeutics and advancing the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases worldwide.

Milligan spent two years of his doctoral studies in Uhlenbeck’s lab at CU Boulder after it was moved from the University of Illinois in 1986. Milligan subsequently joined Gilead Sciences as a research scientist.

Uhlenbeck, an internationally known biochemist, spent 16 years at CU Boulder at a time when the university was becoming a leader in RNA research. He was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 and is a founding member of the RNA Society, which publishes the scientific journal RNA.

“I really value the time I spent at CU Boulder with Olke,” Milligan said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate the conversations we had as I developed into a scientist. He also taught me to be a leader by showing me what it meant to be engaged in research and intellectually curious.”

Distinguished professor Tom Cech, director of the BioFrontiers Institute, will participate in selecting the first Uhlenbeck Fellow from the incoming class of IQ Biology students this fall. Cech shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his discovery that RNA in living cells is not only a molecule of heredity but also can function as a catalyst.

CSU researchers to study Swiss firm’s attempt to fight Zika virus

FORT COLLINS — Researchers at Colorado State University will conduct federally sponsored tests of a Swiss company’s citrus-based insecticide to see if it’s effective against mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

The research is being sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. CSU researchers, working under NIAID’s preclinical services program, will test the repellency and insecticidal properties of nootkatone, an insecticide produced by Evolva (SIX: EVE), a company based in Reinach, Switzerland. Data from the studies will supplement Evolva’s research to fulfill Environmental Protection Agency requirements for the commercial launch of nootkatone in the United States.

Zika is one of a number of mosquito-borne viruses, which include both dengue and chikungunya, that are transmitted by two species of mosquito. The World Health Organization and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared the virus a public health emergency because it is associated with potentially severe neuropathogenic and neurodevelopmental conditions in humans.

CDC research already has shown that nootkatone repels and kills a mosquito that can transmit Zika and yellow fever, as well as the black-legged tick that transmits Lyme disease.

Evolva also produces the sweetener known as stevia. Nootkatone can be extracted in minute quantities from the skin of grapefruit or the bark of the Alaska yellow cedar, or produced on an industrial scale from brewing via yeast fermentation.

$3.5M methane-emissions test site to be built at CSU

FORT COLLINS — A facility for testing new technologies for detecting methane emissions at oil and gas extraction sites will be built this fall on Colorado State University property somewhere in the Fort Collins area.

A team of CSU researchers won the $3.5 million, three-year federal grant to create and operate the national facility, the school and the Department of Energy announced on Friday. The money comes from the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, or ARPA-E. All the teams doing research at the site, including CSU’s, will be funded under the ARPA-E MONITOR (Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions) program.

The facility will simulate a broad range of natural-gas production systems for testing technologies in real-world industry conditions. It will allow research teams from across the nation to test new technologies for enhanced sensing of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

“The Energy Department has invested in the methane-detection technology,” said principal investigator Daniel Zimmerle, a senior research associate at the CSU Energy Institute, in an interview with BizWest on Friday. “The cost of that detection has been lowered by an order of magnitude with some breakthrough technology. It used to be around $20,000; now it’s more like $2,000 or even $200. But what they need is a test facility to make sure those detectors are working.

“Our job is to assist in bringing these technologies to market,” he added. “We’ll help companies prove out solutions in a controlled environment prior to deployment in the field.”

The site will be located completely outside oil and gas basins, to allow for near-complete control of background and onsite emissions. But exactly where the facility will be built is yet to be determined, Zimmerle said.

“We are still working on that,” he said. “CSU has a number of properties in the Fort Collins area, and there’s some community-engagement process that we’ll have to manage as well. The site will be selected this summer, probably fairly soon.”

The facility will look “somewhat like a gas production site — almost like a movie set for an oil and gas facility,” he said, “There’ll be some gravel pads, a little bit of roadway — sort of the same type of construction that looks like putting a driveway into a rural home.

“The tallest part will be about 20 feet tall. We’re trying to simulate wind conditions and the air flow at a site.”

Bidding for the construction should take place in September or early October, he said, and the facility should be completed by mid-December because “construction is pretty minor.”

Joining Zimmerle’s CSU team will be Anthony Marchese, a professor of mechanical engineering; Jeffrey Collett, a professor of atmospheric science; Jeffrey Pierce, an assistant professor of atmospheric science; Clay Bell, a postdoctoral researcher at the CSU Energy Institute; Timothy Vaughn and Gerald Duggan, research associates at the institute; and Arsineh Hecobian, a postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric science. Partnering with the CSU researchers will be two representatives of Colorado School of Mines in Golden: Kathleen Smits, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Dag Nummedal, director of CSM’s Colorado Energy Research Institute.

The facility will consist of multiple sub-facilities that simulate different operations throughout the natural-gas industry supply chain: dry gas production, wet gas production, midstream compression, metering and regulating stations, and underground pipelines.

2 CSU researchers win Boettcher Foundation biomedical grants

FORT COLLINS — Two Colorado State University researchers who study tiny organisms and their roles in viruses and cancer have received awards that will fund three years of research for their laboratories.

Rushika Perera, an assistant professor of virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Tim Stasevich, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in CSU’s College of Natural Sciences, each received $225,000 Webb-Waring Biomedical Research awards through the Denver-based Boettcher Foundation.

The foundation announced this week that the scientists will join the 2016 class of Boettcher Investigators, 10 early-career researchers who are getting established in their fields. The foundation will support their work as they become competitive for major awards from federal and private sources.

For the past three years, Perera has run a lab at CSU’s Foothills Campus, studying how dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika viruses behave in their mosquito hosts. Stasevich’s lab develops fluorescence microscopy techniques to image proteins in living cells in order to better understand genetic processes and subsequently control and correct gene misregulation. His team will study how epigenetics in particular contribute to cancer development.

Woot Math raises another $1.3M to help kids conquer fractions

BOULDER — Local venture-capital firm Foundry Group has provided another cash infusion for Boulder education-technology startup Woot Math, which makes a suite of software applications aimed at boosting students’ understanding of fractions.

Woot Math, officially Simbulus Inc., disclosed recently that it raised $1.3 million in a new funding round that comes just more than a year after Foundry Group invested $1 million in the company.

Cofounder and CEO Krista Marks said this week that the money will be used largely to continue building out Woot Math’s tools and platform, though the company also plans to start bringing in revenue this fall.

Woot Math makes interactive instructional tools that students can access on Chromebooks and other mobile devices. Woot Math will also launch a new polling tool this fall that allows teachers to do real-time assessments in the classroom to gauge how well students are grasping specific concepts and where they might be stumbling.

The company is also working to convert pilot users of the platform from the recently completed school year to paid users for the coming 2016-17 school year. Inundated by requests to pilot the program last year, Woot Math made the decision to make its software free for the 2015-16 year. That led to the company having more than 8,000 teachers using the platform with more than 80,000 students across all 50 states, including significant usage in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts locally.

The software will be licensed to schools on a subscription basis for roughly $4 per student per school year.

“We’re having a higher conversion than we expected, so we are very encouraged with the conversion from free to paid so far,” Marks said.

Woot Math first launched its product in the fall of 2014 but prior to that had run a year-long efficacy study funded in part by a $180,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to test the effectiveness of Woot Math’s applications in about 350 students. In addition to the new funding round, Woot Math recently received a follow-on NSF grant of $750,000 that will enable the company to do a much larger study in the fall that includes roughly 2,000 students.

Based in downtown Boulder, Woot Math has seven full-time employees and five contractors, and Marks said the firm could add a couple of more over the coming year. Most of the company’s growth this year will be fueled by the team already in place, she said.

CU Boulder researchers to develop energy-saving window film

BOULDER — The University of Colorado Boulder has received a $1.8 million grant to develop a window coating that could improve buildings’ energy efficiency.

The grant came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

The CU team is using liquid crystals, widely known for their technological use in smartphones and flat-panel high-definition televisions, to create a transparent, solid film that is thermally insulating, soundproof and resists water condensation. Associate physics professor Ivan Smalyukh and mechanical engineering professor Ronggui Yang lead the team.

“Buildings consume about 40 percent of the energy expended annually in the United States,” said Yang in a prepared statement. “We think we can dramatically increase the energy efficiency of windows without compromising transparency and other functions.”

The liquid crystal-based aerogel — a synthetic, porous and ultralight material — can be created by using rodlike, cellulose nanoparticles, each with a diameter nearly a million times smaller than a grain of sand, said Smalyukh. Derived from food-industry waste or glucose with the help of a specific bacteria grown by the team, the rodlike nanoparticles spontaneously self-assemble into a liquid crystal, he said.

A key step in the process is to replace the water in the liquid crystal material with air, transforming it into flexible aerogel film.

“The material will be lightweight, insulating, mechanically stable, flexible and inexpensive,” said Smalyukh.

The cellulose-based liquid crystals are designed to self-organize and can be “pre-engineered” to assure transparency in the visible light range and high reflectivity in a selected part of the infrared spectrum that keeps the buildings cool or warm as needed. Dubbed “Air Film” by the team, the aerogel material is more than 99 percent air.

Graduate students and postdoctoral researchers will be involved in the effort, said Smalyukh, who also is a fellow at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

The grant is part of DOE’s Single-Pane Insulating Efficient Lucid Design, or SHIELD, program, which is expected to accelerate the development of materials that could halve the amount of heat lost through single-pane windows without replacing them, said Yang.

Air Film will have the ability to be laminated on the surface of existing windowpanes. The team aims to produce films that consumers can easily apply, which would decrease costs by eliminating professional installation labor expenses.

The CU-Boulder grant was one of 14 grants totaling $31 million for window-efficient technologies awarded by Energy Department officials. Experts estimate that retrofitting widows rather than replacing them could reduce heat loss and save roughly the amount of electricity needed to power 32 million U.S. homes each year.

In December, the DOE awarded another CU-Boulder research team $4 million over three years to develop an inexpensive, paintable coating to retrofit energy-inefficient windows. The infrared-reflective coating is expected to drastically reduce cooling costs for both residential and commercial structures, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Boulder startup Bitsbox selected for AT&T Aspire Accelerator

BOULDER — Bitsbox, an education-tech startup in Boulder, is one of six companies chosen from across the nation to participate in a six-month accelerator program based in San Francisco.

The 2016 AT&T Aspire Accelerator is in its second year and is part of AT&T’s $350 million commitment to help students succeed in school and beyond.

Bitsbox, the tradename for Codepops Inc., has developed a way to teach kids between the ages of six and 12 computer programming by allowing them to build apps through a website along with a monthly subscription box that contains a variety of programming projects. Bitsbox prints the projects in books, on trading cards and stickers, and sometimes whoopie cushions, and sends them via snail mail.

Each participating organization in the Aspire Accelerator receives a $100,000 AT&T investment and an additional $25,000 to cover costs of the program. For-profit companies in return give AT&T up to a 5 percent equity stake in the company, and the nonprofits receive the cash as a contribution, according to the accelerator’s website. Participants receive guidance from AT&T, education and other tech mentors and access to expert services from AT&T and others.

Participants attend four in-person sessions including kickoff and demo day. They also meet with an accelerator entrepreneur in residence once a week.

The other five startups participating in the accelerator class of 2016 are:

Couragion, Denver —  an engaging app that exposes students to STEM careers using videos, games and self-reflection quizzes.

Cogent Education, Athens, Ga. — interactive case-study software has students acting like scientists, learning science concepts and honing problem solving skills.

CommonLit, nonprofit, Washington, D.C. – a free digital platform that helps teachers find and plan engaging lessons and track student progress in reading.

TalkingPoints, nonprofit, San Francisco — multilingual texting platform that connects teachers, families and students via mobile technology

The Graide Network, Chicago — an online platform connecting teachers with on-demand teaching assistants to grade and provide thorough feedback on student work.

Patent for Zika, West Nile treatment among UNC awards

GREELEY — A patent to create a potential treatment for Zika and West Nile viruses is among innovation awards announced Thursday by a University of Northern Colorado office.

The inaugural awards recognizing innovation disclosures, intellectual property and commercialization activities are presented by UNC’s Office of Innovation Development and Enterprise Advancement (IDEA), which helps faculty and students get their ideas into the marketplace.

Susan Keenan won the Patent Award for her and her Colorado State University colleagues’  granted patent, “Thioxothiazolindine Inhibitors,” a potential treatment for a genus of viruses called flavivirus that include Zika, West Nile, dengue, tick-borne encephalitis and yellow fever. Keenan is seeking corporate-development partners for the work.

Elysia Clemens won the Innovator of the Year award for Apprentice, a software application in  desktop and mobile versions for managing field-based experiences such as internships for students and supervisors.

Michael Mosher won the Invention of the Year award for development of an in-line sensor on brewing vats. The device measures unwanted compounds that spoil flavor as beer is brewing, allowing for adjustments to be made without pulling samples and conducting hands-on analysis that other techniques require. Mosher, who also oversees UNC’s Brewing Laboratory Science program, also is seeking corporate-development partners.

Reid Hayward won an Innovation of the Year award for his work with UNC’s Cancer Rehabilitation Institute and creation of the Clinical Cancer Exercise Specialist training program, which will be licensed soon to a United Kingdom-based company.

Braeden Ayres and Trevor Lovell were named Student Innovators of the Year for “Project Osorhythm,” a music- education app designed to effectively teach rhythm concepts and skills. The project won UNC’s first-ever Spark Competition to encourage music innovations. The project won a $1,500 grant.

IDEA also recognized more than 50 innovators who submitted innovation disclosures since IDEA’s inception in 2014 as well as the Innovation@UNC teams, which have created 13 new programs that have received funding as part of a university initiative.

IDEA, Innovation@UNC and UNC BizHub, an incubator for educational and entrepreneurial services to help build sustainable businesses, are part of UNC’s continued focus on innovation.

Energy exec donates $13M for CSU scholarships, construction

FORT COLLINS — The head of a Texas-based liquefied natural gas company has made contributions to Colorado State University totaling $13 million to fund new scholarships and construction projects, the university announced Thursday.

The gifts from CSU alumnus Michael Smith, chairman and chief executive of Houston-based Freeport LNG, will pay for new scholarships focused on business, natural resources and chemistry, complete funding for a new natural-resources building and contribute to the new alumni center.

“I have always felt that I owe a tremendous amount of my success in the energy patch to my education at CSU,” Smith told BizWest on Thursday afternoon. “I love the city of Fort Collins and was in a financial position to help CSU.”

Smith said his company is building a $12.5 billion liquefied natural gas exporting facility in Freeport, Texas.

“Michael Smith is a brilliant, visionary business leader who, with this gift, has extended that vision to Colorado State University,” CSU president Tony Frank said in a media release. “We are humbled by his generosity and profoundly inspired by what we believe this will do for our students, alumni, and academic programs.”

According to the release, Smith’s gift includes:

• $5 million to create 50 full-tuition four-year scholarships in the College of Business, in honor of that college’s 50th anniversary, including 13 endowed Michael Smith Elite Business Scholars awards and 37 Michael Smith 50th Anniversary Scholarship awards.

• $3.7 million to complete funding to build the Michael Smith Natural Resources Building in the Warner College of Natural Resources, the final gift needed to secure the $20 million in private and public funding support necessary to break ground.

• $3.5 million for the 20,000-square-foot Michael and Iris Smith Alumni Center, to be located in the northeast corner of the new on-campus football stadium, adjacent to the educational portion of the facility.

• $400,000 to create 10 full-ride, four-year Michael Smith Scholarships in the Department of Geosciences in the Warner College of Natural Resources.

• $400,000 to create 10 full-tuition four-year Michael Smith Scholarships in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Sciences. “Chemistry is my old major there,” Smith said.

Prior to his position at Freeport, Smith was chairman and CEO of Fort Collins-based Basin Exploration, which he founded in 1981 and sold to Stone Energy in 2001. He attended CSU in the 1970s, and holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the school.

He is a past president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and served on its board for more than 10 years.

SiVEC Biotechnologies wins top prize at CSU Collegiate Challenge

FORT COLLINS – SiVEC Biotechnologies, a startup founded by Colorado State University graduate student Lyndsey Linke, took home the $20,000 top prize from the CSU Collegiate Challenge business pitch competition on Wednesday night.

Linke out-pitched outpitched 13 other startups from five states that were competing in the challenge.

In addition to the cash prize, SiVEC also earns an entry into a preliminary round of the $250,000 Capital Championship, which was formerly known as the CSU Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge. The startup also earned an automatic interview for the Boulder-based Boomtown startup accelerator, a year of services from AllProWebTools and public relations firm Meld Strategy + Communications and various in-kind legal services.

SiVEC formed out of Link’s work as a doctoral student at CSU and her post-doctoral research in clinical sciences. The company is developing aerosol-based antiviral products for the rapid prevention of respiratory diseases in commercial poultry.

“The validation that you’re working toward something that can have an impact is really meaningful,” Linke said in a release from CSU. “To take it a step further and receive a prize and money, and people who believe in the technology and want to see it move forward, is even more exciting.”

Another CSU startup, IgnoreU, took home second place and $5,000. The company, founded by CSU MBA grad Carmelo Mannino and computer science grad Brandon Dewey, makes a mobile app that acts as a spam filter for people’s social media feeds.

Judges for the challenge included Cliintel Capital Group CEO Rich Batenberg, Zayo Group chief operations officer Matt Erickson, Innosphere CEO Mike Freeman, Thrive on Group CEO Sue Kunz, and angel investor and Epicentral Coworking cofounder Lisa Tessarowicz.

But it wasn’t just the judges whom SiVEC won over. The company also took home the People’s Choice Award voted on by audience members.