Infotonic's First Grants Include Bioterror-Sensor Project with UR
BY STAFF WRITER
Scientists developing cutting-edge tools for detecting bioterror attacks and diagnosing disease are among the first beneficiaries of a new research center designed to trigger economic growth.
The two projects, along with 11 others from across the state, will receive about $4.5 million through next year from the Infotonics Technology Center Inc. of Canandaigua.
That center was created last summer with an eye toward turning research discoveries into products and high-paying new jobs - perhaps as many as 5,000 over the next few years, organizers believe. It was opened with the help of $43 million from New York state taxpayers and $15 million each from Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Corning Inc.
The first 13 grants work toward that promise with a wide variety of inquiries involving more than a dozen colleges and universities across the state.
Headlining the grants is work at the University of Rochester and four other schools to develop sensors that can detect anthrax and other life-threatening materials.
The idea is to create low-cost devices that can be placed in airports, other public facilities and private buildings to give early warnings of potential terrorist attacks.
As currently conceived, the sensors would send messages to "command and control" facilities that would verify readings and implement emergency plans, said Philippe M. Fauchet, director of UR's Center for Future Health. Other uses are possible, he said. Companies, for example, could develop sensors to measure pollution and issue alerts if emissions cross into dangerous territory. Fauchet's team received a $1.3 million grant for the project.
"What we're trying to do is develop a platform that can be used in different applications," Fauchet said Tuesday in Canandaigua, where he joined about 100 other university and corporate researchers for a status report on the Infotonics Center.
The other marquee project is centered at the City University of New York and has a futuristic feel.
The school is working to develop miniaturized devices that can be swallowed by patients and will transmit diagnostic information from inside the body.
The research is being headed by Robert R. Alfano, distinguished professor of science and engineering at the City University. One of his primary focuses is to use the technology to help assess various cancers. But Alfano says it also has applications in industry to, for instance, measure and diagnose cracks in aircraft bodies.
The CUNY research is a perfect illustration of the type of project the Infotonics Center is looking for, said Rick Jarman, director of technology projects at Kodak and Kodak's liaison to the center.
To produce a minidiagnostic device envisioned by CUNY will take vast expertise in a variety of fields, such as microelectronics, photonics, optics and others, Jarman said. That's exactly what organizers of the Infotonics Center believe they have to offer, he said.
The center has established "remote health management" as the theme of projects it will consider, but not only in the way you might think. Health can include machines, structures and the environment as well as humans, Jarman said.
"Our goal was not to create something so specific that we lose the bright minds in that room," Jarman said, motioning to the meeting room filled with researchers. "We wanted to guide them."
Generally speaking, the Infotonics Center and its partners will own rights to discoveries that come out of projects it funds, Jarman said. Some will be exclusive, some nonexclusive, he added. Individual companies can then use the research to benefit their own businesses.
The ultimate goal is simple, Duncan Moore, the center's chief executive officer, told the researchers. "We're into job creation," he said.
The center has about 10 employees, expected to grow to 40 by year's end and 60 next year. Most will be technical jobs.
Renovations have begun on the permanent home of the Infotonics Center - a former Xerox manufacturing facility in Canandaigua - which should be completed by the first quarter of next year. The building will be filled by at least $23 million in donated equipment from member companies, particularly Kodak and Corning.
Copyright 2003 Gannett Rochester Newspapers
Reprinted with permission of the Democrat and Chronicle