UAB, BBA partner to win prestigious $600,000 NSF Partnership for Innovation grant

Written by 
The National Science Foundation (NSF) will support a UAB)/Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) collaboration through a $600,000 Partnership for Innovation (PFI) grant, which has the potential to enhance and create more knowledge-based jobs in the Birmingham region through UAB startups and spin-off companies.

vohra feature2Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D.This is one of only 17 PFI grants awarded this year, and the first ever given in the state of Alabama. PFI grants encourage academic and industry partners to work together on research discoveries to bolster U.S. competitiveness or provide a solution to a national and/or global problem.

The grant will support a synthetic diamond research project — “Innovations in Chemical Vapor Deposited Diamond Crystals and Nanostructured Diamond Coatings” — and it represents a significant milestone in a growing strategic trend of collaborative efforts between the BBA and UAB.

Developments in the synthesis of diamond over the last three decades have made it possible to grow different types of diamond on various surfaces. UAB and the BBA will team with Almax-easy Lab, Onyx Optics and Vista Engineering to develop: new diamond-based sensors that can work in the most extreme environments, like deep below the ground in gas and oil drilling or in space exploration; new diamond-coated laser media that will create industrial- and medical-laser applications; and next-generation, diamond-coated biomedical implants that will last twice as long as existing implants.

“The increase in lifespan of biomedical implants will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans and reduce the need for revision surgeries,” said the study’s principal investigator (PI) Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., University Scholar and professor in the Department of Physics and associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The diamond-coated laser media, with minimal loss and high damage threshold, will enable new laser applications in industry and medicine.”

UAB faculty, graduate students and staff have made significant scientific discoveries in the field of synthetic diamond, and this NSF-PFI grant provides timely support to conduct translational research to overcome key technological barriers to commercialization.

BBA Vice President of Innovation and Technology Steven Ceulemans will serve as the project’s co-PI and lead the BBA’s role to promote the research as a tool to grow the regional knowledge economy around synthetic diamond technologies and enhance the project’s ultimate influence on job growth and economic impact.

“This grant is a great example of how a true partnership between our academic, industry and economic development communities can make us nationally competitive,” Ceulemans said. “It will allow us to bring superior synthetic diamond technologies to market that might change the lives of people around the world, and do so in a way that promotes the economic growth of our region and provides high-quality jobs for Alabamians.”

The BBA and the UAB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will drive the project’s translation of technology into real-world applications while benefiting the regional economy.

“The unique UAB research expertise in the field of chemical vapor deposited diamond crystals and nanostructured diamond coatings will be used to attract new companies to the region that leverage this technology or that rely heavily on recruiting the talented students that UAB trains,” Ceulemans said. “The BBA is uniquely positioned to leverage such assets as we promote the region.”

UAB Vice President of Research and Economic Development Richard Marchase hopes this grant is a taste of things to come.

“As the project translates discoveries into commercial applications and creates opportunities for new spin-offs, the BBA will play a vital role in keeping the economic benefits and growth opportunities local,” Marchase said. “In addition to supporting faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, undergraduate students and advances made through the research, I expect this grant will be one of many in the coming years that provide opportunities for businesses to create jobs here.”