CALS fields WARF Innovation Award winner, finalist groups

A team of CALS biochemists was named a 2019 WARF Innovation Award winner, one of two top honors bestowed by WARF this year. A second CALS team was a finalist in the competition.

Click here to watch a video about the technology developed by Venturelli, Romero and Hsu.

The winning CALS team, which included Ophelia Venturelli, Philip Romero and Ryan Hsu, developed a microfluidic tool for mapping how bacteria interact in complex communities called microbiomes (such as the digestive tract). The ability to investigate these interactions on a large scale has implications from personalized medicine to improved food safety.

“[The technology] could have very broad applications,” said Romero. “We’re mostly targeting human health because of the importance of the microbiome in practically every disease we know.”

The other award winner this year was physics professor Mark Saffmann, who developed a simplified optical hardware for quantum computing.

Click here to watch a video about the germplasm extraction technology developed by the WCIC and Department of Agronomy team.

A second CALS team was among the six finalists for the competition. The group included Brian Martinell, Michael Petersen and Edward Williams with the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center (WCIC), as well as Frank McFarland, Nathaniel Schleif, Shawn Kaeppler and Heidi Kaeppler with the Department of Agronomy. Their technology involved the improved extraction and preservation of pathogen-free maize germplasm for genetic engineering processes.

The six finalists were drawn from among approximately 350 invention disclosures submitted to WARF over the past 12 months. An independent panel of judges selected the award winners. The winning inventions each receive an award of $10,000, with the funds going to the UW–Madison inventors named on the breakthroughs.

The announcement of the award winners and annual grant capped a day devoted to innovation. Now in its second year, WARF Innovation Day brought together industry innovators, researchers, investors, students and the public for a one-of-a-kind technological showcase. More than 300 attendees were treated to quick pitch presentations from WARF Accelerator teams as well as participants from two other UW System campuses, UW Platteville and UW-Milwaukee.

More information is available in the WARF news release about the awards.