A Rochester company is developing a high-sensitivity bioassay technology for early detection of a broad scope of diseases such as ovarian cancer. This technology modifies the chemistry used in the ELISA format bioassay protocol commonly used in medical test laboratories, without the need for any new equipment or capital expenditures. In a conventional Elisa assay, an antigen is detected using an antibody conjugated to an enzyme. A substance containing the enzyme’s corresponding substrate is added and the subsequent reaction produces a detectable signal, most commonly a color change in the substrate. In place of the enzyme catalyst used in conventional ELISA assays, the Rochester company uses a detection antibody conjugated to a nanoparticle-metal catalyst. This results in a high-gain chemical amplification reaction that generates a readable organic dye signal. It offers the potential to provide significantly increased medical diagnostic test sensitivity. In the first phase, CCMR enabled the company to work with a Cornell Chemistry expert who synthesized the reagents necessary to conduct the assay. In a follow-up project, the company used CCMR’s high-resolution transmission electron microscope to study the size and detailed structure of the polymer nanoparticles, which contain the metal catalyst necessary for the signal amplification reaction.
A NYS business develops hearing protection and headphone devices. The company benefited from the help of two Cornell experts and from CCMR matching funds to develop a test method for evaluating new and existing foam ear cuffs used on its products. A test fixture was built specifically to perform strength and air leakage testing. A subsequent project enabled the company to identify new cuff materials and design changes that will increase long-term comfort and performance for their hearing protection device.
In collaboration with the CCMR, a hand-decorated cookie company based in Syracuse has doubled its production after developing a fast-drying frosting. Within four months of partnering with a Cornell food science professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the company reduced the drying time of its frosting from two days to four hours, allowing it to ramp up production of its baked goods from 3,000 to 25,000 cookies a day without having to relocate to a new facility. Its customer list now includes Target, Walgreens, and Costco. With the recently received SQF Level 2 certification, one of the toughest food safety certifications, the company is now ready to sell globally.
A startup focusing on commercializing biological assays to detect hard-to-discern infectious diseases developed a test using Raman spectroscopy with the help of CCMR experts. Using the CCMR Raman and the expertise of a Cornell Materials scientist, the company tested the effects of varying conditions and morphology of their nanostructured metal surfaces and the resulting enhancement of the Raman signal produced in presence of the molecule of interest. To provide complementary services to businesses and enable commercialization of new products and technologies, CCMR has established a strong network of NY State organizations. Through this network, the company was introduced to a manufacturer enabling the company to produce a commercially viable prototype with consistent, signal detection and reproducibility, an important step towards pre-clinical studies and wide spread adoption of the technology.
Within a year of CCMR partnering the company with two Cornell fiber scientists in the College of Human Ecology, a startup originally from New York State was able to create the first prototype of a wearable ultrasonic pain therapy device. This innovative product—a disposable, adhesive patch implanted with a miniature ultrasonic device and a small amount of acoustic gel—caught the attention of venture capitalists. The company secured the FDA clearance and the funding to bring three wearable devices to market. They are being used in physical therapy and the fields of sports and veterinary medicine. The company now employs 24 people.
With the help of CCMR, a Rochester-based startup is turning its idea of a fertility test that the U.S. dairy industry can use to better manage herd breeding into a marketable product. Partnered with faculty members from Cornell’s biological engineering and materials science departments, the company has been able to optimize plant pigments-based diagnostic tests tracking mammals’ estrus cycles and to increase the shelf life of these tests. Subsequent field trials have allowed the company to obtain grant after grant to pursue the development of an affordable and single-use test that dairy farmers can use to track bovine estrus cycles, allowing better management of cow insemination and milk production. This innovation could save the dairy industry, the largest contributor to NY State agricultural economy, 25% in artificial insemination costs.
Innovative Product Development
A leading local manufacturer of optics and accessories for IR-UV-VIS (infrared-ultraviolet-visible light) spectroscopy was partnered with a Cornell physics professor to develop a prototype shear/compression attachment that allows users of optical microscopes to examine biological tissues in response to applied forces. Successfully brought to market, this new product is sold to organizations studying the effects of diseases, such as osteoarthritis, and could lead to the development of sensitive diagnostic tools.
During U.S. Navy helicopter rescue missions, as rescuers are lowered from the helicopter on a steel cable, the dry air that swirls around the helicopter and passes over the cable causes a build-up of static electricity. This causes rescuers to get a major jolt of static electricity when they hit the water or the ground holding the cable, unless they get the cable end to hit the ground first—not always easy to arrange in a crisis situation. CCMR is providing a solution. It partnered a small business, based in Lansing, NY, and a Cornell mechanical engineering professor to develop a safer alternative to the steel cables currently being used in rescue helicopters. Having secured long-term funding from the NAVY, the team is developing a non-conductive cable made of polymer fibers that will also be stronger, lighter and less likely to cause hand injuries that divers receive from broken wires.
An Ithaca-based company, which specializes in intelligent sensor systems that detect icing conditions on aircraft and ground vehicles, is diversifying its product line. Working with a Cornell fiber scientist in the College of Human Ecology, the company created a fiber-reinforced tape that simplifies aviation repairs. The tacky tape, which incorporates a woven webbing made of high-strength fibers, eliminates the tedious job of hand-sewing cable bundles after repairs are made, providing an effective and inexpensive solution. This partnership led to another project: a state grant is allowing the company and the fiber scientist to develop a coating, which uses the principles of biomimicry, to protect power lines during ice storms. The idea for the coating draws its inspiration from the miniscule ridges of lotus leaves, which prevent water from bonding and icing.
A startup designing novel nanostructures coatings worked with a Cornell chemical engineer to develop products for the wound care market. Its technology enables the deposition of conformal nanoparticle coatings on both flat and curved surfaces using a unique layer-by-layer assembly process. The company focused on fabricating highly efficient antimicrobial nanocoatings on a natural cellulose substrate. A Cornell expert in Vascular System and Mass Transfer enabled the company to better understand the wound healing process and accelerate the delivery and activity of antibacterial compounds incorporated in the coating.
A climbing harness that changes color when it is no longer safe to use is under development by a long-time producer of equipment for linemen and arborists. A medium-size company has been partnered with two Cornell faculty members with expertise in fiber science and chemical engineering to use light- and stress-sensing dyes that will alter the appearance of its harnesses when the nylon it is made out of has been compromised by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays or stress. The project is moving beyond the proof-of-concept phase. Patches containing these UV-sensitive and stress sensing dyes for the company’s nylon safety harnesses will provide an immediate warning to the user. Incorporating smart indicators into products is a giant leap forward in the safety of synthetic materials and will open up many new applications.
Cornell technologies attract not only the attention of multinationals eager to use innovative materials for new applications. They are also the focus of new businesses. An energy-focused startup located in California collaborated with a Cornell chemical engineering expert to develop a scalable gas-assisted electrospinning manufacturing process for energy storage materials. Electrospinning, a conventional fiber-making process, applies an electric field and a whipping motion to draw droplets out of a polymer solution or melted polymer. Adding high-speed controlled air as the second driving force makes the process more effective and more importantly scalable. Further optimization led to an electrospray process that could be used in nanocoatings, sensor-making, and many other applications, opening up a wide variety of markets for the startup.
An established industry leader in vacuum coating with international partners in Europe, and Asia, developed a new physical vapor deposition (PVD) process to replace the toxic electroplated chromium coating process for applications on plastic substrates from automobiles to appliances. A Cornell faculty enabled the company to study each step of its PVD process and overcome process variabilities helping the company finalize contracts with large customers.
The semiconductor industry is developing smaller and smaller transistors, but is still unable to test quickly and efficiently their basic electrical and physical properties. A manufacturing startup in upstate New York is on the cusp of a technological breakthrough that will help the industry solve this problem and identify production faults in the early stages of fabrication of semiconductor devices. The company, which began as a two-year CCMR funded project in the lab of an electrical engineering professor, is developing a scanning probe that enables testing and characterization of semiconductor materials at the nano-level. The company is building multiple tips along with supporting sensing, actuation and electronics onto a single probe chip, using advanced nanoelectromechanical system (NEMS) technologies. The multiple integrated tip device allows accurate electrical characterization of transistor performance at a fraction of current cost and time. As a result of the CCMR funded projects, the company has been granted a 10-year tax abatement and secured funding from agencies such as NYSERDA, DARPA, and NSF to pursue the development of this innovative technology, an advancement that could save the semiconductor industry millions.
A Cornell Startup developing a unique enzyme immobilization technology, that should optimize all enzyme reactions to their full potential, was looking at diversifying its offering in enzyme carriers. The company wanted to develop advanced biocatalytic new tunable materials. CCMR provided matching funds for a collaborative project with an expert in Fiber Science. This enabled the company to achieve its goal: producing engineering enzyme-carrying materials that are compatible with processes for the manufacturing of chemicals.
An Auburn-based company is bringing to market a newly developed environmentally friendly building material that is manufactured using plastic waste. The company, which uses recycled materials to develop cost-effective products for the agricultural, equine, commercial, industrial, and consumer markets, was partnered with a Cornell fiber science professor in the College of Human Ecology. The team developed a technology to turn plastic waste into plywood-like plastic sheets. Building materials made with these innovative “green” materials are water and chemical resistant, and stronger than the dense plywood currently used as the industry benchmark.
A global manufacturer of amorphous metal used as core materials in energy-efficient power distribution transformers is poised to expand into new markets. The company is upgrading its rapid manufacturing techniques with the help of a Cornell chemical engineering professor. The newly developed proprietary process produces metal alloys with enhanced electromagnetic properties, paving the way for use of the company’s new alloys in structural applications in aerospace, a new target market. The technique can also be transferred to other rapid manufacturing processes that involve metal-on-metal solidification, used in the metals and semiconductor industries.
To manufacture nano-gas sensing devices an American multinational semiconductor company needed the expertise necessary to develop nanoscale fabrication techniques. The principle of metal–oxide–semiconductor MOS based sensors is based on a change in the electrical conductivity of a metal oxide semiconductor MOS film when exposed to a specific gas species. Integrating such transistors with MEMS devices is challenging as standard MEMS production processes degrade the electronics and vice versa. To overcome these technical challenges, the company partnered with a Cornell electrical engineer. The company has now access to technologies leading to integrated microsystems using micro and nanoscale fabrication techniques.
A small company formed as a result of cutting-edge battery technology research with a Cornell electrochemistry professor approached the CCMR to scale-up production of its innovative anode material, necessary step to secure state and federal grants as well as venture capital financing. The company has been able to successfully demonstrate that the anodes it has developed for lithium batteries can be manufactured and assembled into battery pouch cells using commercially viable processes. The company is currently working on a phase two scale-up. These results facilitated its selection as a tenant in Cornell’s McGovern Center for Venture Development, which provides promising startups with laboratory space and helps with business plan development and investment opportunities.
An 80-year-old manufacturer of concrete products for the construction and homeowner markets explored the use of post-industry materials such as fly ash in their products with the help of a Cornell Civil Engineering faculty. The mechanical properties of blocks of various compositions were analyzed and compared to industry standards. This new strategy will enable the company to reduce costs and to market a partially recycled final product.
One of the largest tire manufacturers in the world is developing innovative bio-based and sustainable polymers. The multinational company, which is based in France, has been working with a Cornell chemistry professor for several years to develop the new technology, with the goal of decreasing its manufacturing costs, improving the durability and safety of its products, and allowing the company to rely less on fossil fuels.
Exploration of New Markets
A Rochester-based manufacturer of carbon aerogel-based insulation products for the shipping and packaging industry has improved its product line and is exploring new markets such as energy with the help of the CCMR. By working with a Cornell mechanical and aerospace engineering professor to conduct an in-depth analysis of the physical properties of its aerogel-based insulation, the company has been able to streamline the transport of temperature-sensitive goods by creating smaller packages that cost its customers less. A subsequent partnership with a Cornell chemistry professor allowed the company to investigate whether its carbon-aerogel technology might be suitable for energy storage use in batteries and ultracapacitors. Testing conducted at CCMR facilities have shown promise, enabling the company to receive additional funding and hire new employees.
New Material Development
A startup originally based in Rochester was created to develop flexible solar panels, offering a more robust and inexpensive alternative to solar cells deposited on silicon substrates. Lacking in-house resources at this early stage, the company conducted all its research and development activities in the CCMR facilities in collaboration with a Cornell materials science expert. Their work culminated in the development of a single crystal solar cell substrate that can be rolled, streamlining the deployment and manufacture of solar cells. This breakthrough enabled the company to secure multiple federal grants and millions of dollars of venture financing prior to relocating to California after being acquired by a larger company.
A manufacturer of certified standards for XRF instruments, facing continuous challenges from foreign competitors who benefit from low-cost technical labor and R&D funding, turned to the CCMR to develop new standards that none of their competitors could offer. Through a process specifically designed to reduce stress in sputtered films, metal was deposited onto plastic substrates. This yielded a unique product and gave the company an edge over its international competitors, reinforcing its position as a “one-stop shop” for reference standards in a crowded global marketplace.
New materials developed by a small Rochester-based company in the lab of a chemistry professor at Cornell are being used to fabricate organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that will provide the industry with a cheaper processing alternative. The company, which was founded by former Kodak researchers, benefited from Cornell’s help to synthesize small batches of amorphous charge-transporting molecular glasses, enabling the company to create an OLED prototype with engineers at the University of Rochester. A subsequent grant from the Department of Energy is being used to demonstrate to large-scale manufacturers of OLEDs that devices fabricated with the newly developed molecules are commercially viable and more efficient.
The link between materials’ structure and their properties is of strong interest to multiple industry sectors manufacturers. A global company requested the help of the CCMR to optimize the mechanical performance of materials used in exterior and interior components of the automotive industry, its largest market. A Cornell chemist synthesized semi-crystalline polyolefins with specific microarchitectures that enhance their mechanical properties. The synthesis of precisely controlled polymer architectures is making the company’s ultimate goal possible: the commercial production of articles with designed structure and properties.
To answer consumers’ needs, more and more manufacturers are developing lighter and more flexible products. A multinational conglomerate producing consumer electronics approached the CCMR, which partnered it with a Cornell chemical engineering faculty. Using electrospinning, a conventional fiber-making process, which applies an electric field and a whipping motion to draw a fiber out of a polymer solution or melted polymer, the Cornell faculty produced polymer-metal hybrid fillers. These flexible polymer composites can replace heavy metal parts. Their electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties were analyzed resulting in the selection of the most appropriate composites for consumer electronics products.
A world leader in filtration systems developed new materials for filtration membranes in collaboration with a Cornell materials science expert. The Cornell faculty utilizes block copolymer self-assembly to produce membranes with well-ordered, densely packed, uniform pores in the top surface. Using proprietary techniques developed in his lab, the expert fabricated scalable membranes with high fluxes and sharp molecular weight (MW) cut-offs. The company has now a wide range of membranes specifically suited for a variety of applications to offer to diverse industry sectors in function of their needs.
“Materials by Design” refers to research that seeks to designing new materials for specific applications or with specific properties. A New Jersey based specialty chemicals and materials technology company is working with a Cornell mechanical engineer to develop micro-mechanics based models on the onset of failure of particle toughened composite materials. Its goal is to apply these models to the design of material systems with improved toughness. This collaboration led to further grant applications and to an international partnership. At the completion of the project, the company will have a set of tools enabling the development of unique materials for specific targeted applications.
A Kodak technology startup developing cerium-based nano-materials used the CCMR to fine-tune its process for producing catalysts used in diesel fuel additives, and to train its employees in advanced electron microscopy techniques and analysis. Employees, including a staff scientist, at the Rochester-based company, worked with an applied physics professor and an electron microscopy expert from Cornell to image, analyze and better understand the structure and composition of its materials. The level of detailed information the company learned about its very tiny particles during the training guided the refinement of its process techniques, allowing the company to produce a more efficient catalyst material—one that increases the efficiency of off-road engines by more than six percent.
Quality Assurance/Quality Control
A NY State manufacturer of polishing pads for the semiconductor industry approached Cornell for assistance with a product improvement project. In partnership with a Cornell professor from Chemical Engineering, they identified the parameters affecting the performance of their polishing pads. The team developed new production procedures and in-house quality control measures, which helped the company manufacture higher quality products at a lower cost.
A Rochester manufacturer of ultrathin membranes has obtained federal grants and secured international distributors in the biomedical and materials science markets after demonstrating the utility of its membranes as high-performance sample supports for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Using CCMR’s imaging facilities, the company was able to validate new applications of its ultrathin membranes, which are used in molecular and nanoparticle separations, with help from a microscopy expert in applied and engineering physics. The team showed the superiority of measurements taken using its membranes. The company used this information to market its membranes as TEM windows and progressed quickly toward full production, marketing, and sales. The company has now distributors in Europe and Asia.
An Ithaca-based manufacturer of tabletop plasma cleaners was partnered with a Cornell materials science and electrical engineering group, comprised of faculty and students, to analyze the performance of its products. The first step was to construct the equipment necessary to conduct the analysis at the Cornell’s nanofabrication facility. The group applied thin polymer films on silicon wafers, which were then plasma etched using the company’s plasma cleaner. The films were later measured to determine the removal rate and the uniformity across the surface. The students working on this project continued as summer interns at the company. The high-performance analysis conducted at Cornel enabled the company to market a new line of plasma cleaners.
Evaluation of Technical Investments
The instruments available in the CCMR facilities are used by startups as well as by established businesses. Startups cannot afford such resources. The CCMR facilities often become their only R&D lab. Established companies use them to evaluate specific instruments, which constitute large investments even for such businesses.
A worldwide manufacturer of innovative and specialty glasses was able to work and train with an ultra-high resolution microscope at the CCMR facilities for three years before deciding to purchase one of its own. The company relied heavily on CCMR technical staff to justify the microscope purchase, which required an extremely large financial investment. CCMR staff was able to show the company that it could customize use of the microscope for its own needs. They helped the company develop and define procedures that fit its applications. The company decided then to purchase the microscope. Its collaboration with CCMR staff continues, for employees training and for the development of new procedures.
Training, Recruitment and Workplace Development
Companies are approaching CCMR to not only conduct research projects but also conduct targeted employee searches for students who possess specific skills and training. Job descriptions from industry partners are distributed to campus groups with targeted expertise in special fields, such as polymer science, materials science, fibers, food and chemical engineering. From there, information sessions are organized for faculty and students, and on-campus interviews are arranged with the company’s selected candidates.
Companies benefits from the CCMR involving students in their sponsored projects. The students gain practical experience working with global businesses. Industry gains employees specifically trained to develop targeted expertise in a strategic technical area for the company. These projects can also lead to more fellowship and internship opportunities.