Four Faculty Recognized at Third Annual UCI Innovator Awards

Listicle Rising Tide Rising Tide - Jan '21
January 19, 2021 By Ethan Perez

The virtual award ceremony acknowledged innovators for their work in commercializing university intellectual property.

Richard Sudek, Hal Stern, Yoonjin Won, Sunil Gandhi, Weian Zhao and Phil Felgner appear on a computer screenUC Irvine (UCI) is home to brilliant minds who not only conduct groundbreaking research but also inspire and educate the next generation of researchers and scholars. To show appreciation for the achievements of UCI researchers and faculty who are working actively to promote commercialization of university intellectual property, the UCI Innovator Awards was established with support from the Beall Family Foundation. Awardees receive a trophy, a monetary gift and certificates from local and state officials.

Yoonjin Won, Ph.D., from the Henry Samueli School of Engineering received the Emerging Innovation/Early Career Innovator of the Year Award. The award recognizes an individual who has displayed excellence in the early stages of their career or in the very beginning stages of a breakthrough that would be considered innovative. Won’s research uses data-driven physics, extreme computing and materials design to bring efficiency enhancements to energy, water, manufacturing processes and electronics cooling. Her recently filed patent application details a novel, environmentally safe manufacturing method that allows for the production of porous products, which could have numerous applications, including the creation of biocompatible supports for spine surgery.

Sunil Gandhi, Ph.D., from the School of Biological Sciences received the Entrepreneurial Leader of the Year Award. The award recognizes an innovator who has shown an enterprising spirit by transforming at least one significant innovation from the university into a market-ready product or service. Gandhi has pioneered technology to visualize complex tissues, like the brain. He has co-founded two startups: Translucence Biosystems, whose imaging system allows for next-generation 3D imaging of biological tissues like the brain, and another company formed with two fellow UCI professors, which aims to use cell therapy to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

Weian Zhao, Ph.D., from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences received the Innovator of the Year Award. The award recognizes a researcher at UCI who has demonstrated excellence by developing a breakthrough technology, idea or process and has demonstrated its large potential to create economic value and improve lives. Zhao focuses on developing technologies for rapid diagnosis, stem cell therapy and drug discovery. His research is currently being utilized by several startup companies he co-founded, including Velox Biosystems, which focuses on the rapid detection of infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance; Amberstone Biosciences, which aims to develop novel immunotherapeutics for cancer and other immune disorders; and Arvetas Biosciences, which uses a technology to rapidly analyze single-molecule biomarkers from patient tissues for precision medicine.

Philip Felgner, Ph.D., from the School of Medicine received the special COVID-19 Response Award. The award recognizes an innovator who has demonstrated an innovative and entrepreneurial drive in response to the global pandemic. Felgner has been at the forefront of COVID-19 diagnostics since January 2020, and his microarray technologies allow for sensitive testing of proteins and antibodies to detect and monitor the course of infection. In addition to developing a COVID-19 Coronavirus Antigen Microarray that detects antibodies against coronavirus-infected people, which was used in a six-month study on UCI healthcare workers, his startup Nanommune recently collaborated with Velox Biosystems to produce a rapid high-throughput COVID-19 serological test.

UCI Beall Applied Innovation proudly celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of UCI faculty and acknowledges that to recognize innovative thinkers is to recognize the pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of humankind.

Learn more about the UCI Innovator Awards and to see past awardees.

Photos & Illustrations: Julie Kennedy, UCI Beall Applied Innovation

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