Campus and community innovators get due praise for work combating the COVID-19 pandemic

Contributions to COVID-19 research, innovation and entrepreneurship were recognized at the fifth annual UAB Innovation Awards, presented by the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on Oct. 29.
Written by: Haley Herfurth
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

University of Alabama at BirminghamClose-up of 8-foot bronze "Blaze" statue, designed and created by Branko Medenica and donated by Ken Jackson, is the centerpiece for Blazer Pride Plaza and the main entrance to the new Collat School of Business, 2018. faculty, staff, student and community innovators were recognized for their 2020 contributions to COVID-19 research, innovation and entrepreneurship during the fifth annual UAB Innovation Awards, presented by the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. 

“We received an outpouring of nominations from across campus and within the community,” said Kathy Nugent, Ph.D., executive director of the Harbert Institute and chair of the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences. “The many stories of cutting-edge research and cross-disciplinary collaboration underscore our resilience and the university’s commitment to keeping our community safe.” 

Awards were presented in four categories:

Faculty Innovator of the Year 

Sue Feldman, Ph.D., and Mohanraj Thirumalai, Ph.D.

Sue Feldman is an associate professor in the School of Health Professions, senior scientist in the School of Medicine Informatics Institute and director of graduate programs in Health Informatics. Mohanraj Thirumalai is assistant professor in the SHP Department of Health Services Administration and director of Information and Communication Technologies for the UAB/Lakeshore Foundation Research Collaborative. Their teams worked to build and scale the GuideSafe™ and Healthcheck web applications and ensured UAB held a leadership role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic across the state and beyond.

Sixto M. Leal Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

Sixto Leal directs the UAB Department of Pathology Fungal Reference Lab and has been working closely with UAB Hospital labs and private-sector biomedical companies to scale up and support the GuideSafe™ Entry Testing program. Free COVID-19 testing was provided to all students at Alabama colleges and universities in advance of the fall semester return to campus. More than 75,000 students were tested, making it the largest-scale higher-education testing initiative in the nation. 

Startup of the Year 

Solution Studios™

Solution Studios, led by Joel Berry, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, brings students together to collaborate in solving real-world clinical problems. Along with his team, Berry officially launched the platform as a startup company this year, and pivoted quickly to create a pandemic-specific interface where clinicians could pose COVID-19 challenges, including addressing social needs amid the pandemic, tackling at-home care for discharged COVID-19 patients and keeping patients safe during routine treatments, such as dialysis.

Staff Innovator of the Year 

Brian Rivers

Brian Rivers is associate vice president and UAB chief technology officer, and was the UAB lead in developing the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification App in partnership with Google, Apple, MotionMobs and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Rivers developed a novel method to verify positive tests, allowing automation of verification to reduce false positives. Alabama was the first state to introduce the method, which currently is in the patent process. 

Community Innovator of the Year

Taylor Peake, MotionMobs

UAB alumna Taylor Peake is president of Birmingham-based software consulting and development firm MotionMobs. Together with UAB and the ADPH, MotionMobs developed GuideSafe™, which has been downloaded by more than 70,000 residents across the state of Alabama. Alabama was the fourth state in the country to launch such an app.

During the virtual awards event, Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship also unveiled its new online-only intellectual property disclosure process. Using BlazerID authentication, inventors can now disclose IP quickly via an online portal and track the progress of their invention in real time. Learn more at