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Close up of the scanning electrochemical workstation in a lab in Zeanah Engineering Complex on July 17, 2023. Photo by Jennie Andrews/University of Tennessee

Five faculty entrepreneurs who have developed technologies with the potential for commercialization have had their projects selected for the inaugural Chancellor’s Innovation Fund. These faculty, whose research range from athletic field safety to quantum computing, will each receive $50,000 and the support they need to help move their technology from the lab toward the marketplace.

The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund, which is administered by the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, is aimed at bolstering East Tennessee’s entrepreneurship pipeline and providing a pathway to commercialize technology for faculty.

“Translating the discoveries our faculty make into technology that works for people is one of the most visible ways we carry out our mission as a land-grant research university,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “I am proud of this initiative and the gaps it helps bridge. Without this kind of seed money, many high-tech ideas like these would never make it to the people who need them.

The recipients, who will be honored at an award ceremony on February 21, were chosen through a rigorous process that included a pitch competition where they were asked to describe the benefits of their technology and how the funding would help propel their ideas to market.

Evaluations of the projects were based on their ability to address an unmet market need, the current state of technology, the proposed technology development plan and the funding’s impact on commercialization. UT Research Foundation supported the program by evaluating proposals and coaching participants.

“We often talk about conducting research that makes life and lives better and the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund is a perfect example of putting these words into action.” said Rob Coleman, ORIED’s director of entrepreneurship and new ventures. “Our five awardees will utilize this funding over the next 12 months to refine their technology, develop prototypes and conduct validation testing to ensure their solutions are addressing specific customer needs.”

The following projects were selected for awards:

Reimagining Superconducting Logic Systems with Ferroelectric SQUID and Heater Cryotron
Assistant Professor Ahmedullah Aziz, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Tickle College of Engineering


Aziz’s project seeks to revolutionize superconducting processors essential for quantum computing, high-performance computing systems and space electronics. His project involves simulation, fabrication and characterization to assess and advance this promising superconducting logic system.

A portion of the award funds will be used to fabricate and characterize wafer-scale superconducting circuits at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems in Dresden, Germany. The remainder will be used to support a part-time graduate research assistant responsible for the physical design and testing of the chips.

“Working at UT allows me to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in my field, access cutting-edge resources, and engage in impactful research that can contribute to advancements in science and technology,” said Aziz. “It provides a stimulating environment where the emphasis on research aligns with my passion for pushing the boundaries of knowledge and making meaningful contributions to my field. I am grateful for this opportunity.”

Data Engine, Automated Visualization
Professor Jian Huang, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Tickle College of Engineering


Huang’s project is based on his research in the fields of visualization, big data and cloud computing. He coined the term Visualization as a Service, or VaaS, and his project aims to create intelligent VaaS to generate analysis and visualization apps for users, especially those working in organizations that need to use big data but cannot afford to hire their own data scientists.

Huang will use his award to boost the technological readiness level of intelligent VaaS—specifically, to turn research methods in a university lab into a prototype system that users can operate in business-critical settings.

Huang said that working in a research university has allowed him a unique kind of intellectual pursuit in both teaching and research. “Over the past 20 years at UT, I’ve been blessed with having great students. They are talented, passionate and daring,” he said. “Working with them has given me the energy and sustainability needed to make the kind of explorations that I’ve really enjoyed.”

Enzymes for Bioplastic Recycling
Professor Todd Reynolds and doctoral student Jordan Cannon, Department of Microbiology, College of Arts and Sciences


Reynolds and Cannon’s project is focused on engineering bacterial proteins that can degrade the bioplastic polylactic acid to make them more heat-resistant. The proteins can then be more versatile in biodegradation and recycling applications that require high temperatures. PLA products can be reduced back to their original composition of lactic acid to remake PLA products or be degraded in the environment so they do not pollute landfills, compost piles or landscapes.

The award funds will support Cannon’s work in Reynolds’ lab as well as providing supplies and reagents to allow the work to move forward.

Reynolds said he is grateful for the support from the university and the UT Research Foundation.

“Being a Vol is exciting. I get to interact with some of the brightest and most talented graduate and undergraduate students as well as world-class faculty at a school that provides the resources and incentives to do great research, teach classes to great students, and acquire resources that can improve the public good for Tennessee, America and the world,” said Reynolds.

fLEX Field Athletic Field Tester
Distinguished Professor John Sorochan, Turfgrass Science and Management, UT Institute of Agriculture; Kyley Dickson, researcher and co-director, UT Center for Athletic Field Safety


Sorochan and Dickson’s project is a testing device called fLEX, which measures the performance and playability of surfaces, typically sports surfaces. The device, which they conceived of together, is portable and can simulate the foot strike of an athlete ranging from 35 to 350 pounds doing a stopping or accelerating motion.

Testing focuses on three areas: the actual surface (natural grass, synthetic turf, etc.), the footwear, and the athlete (weight, sport, etc.) The funds awarded to Sorochan and Dickson will primarily be used for continued software and mechanical development of the current beta prototype.

Sorochan said that working at UTIA has provided him the freedom to explore creative research ideas. He added that their research and inventions have a real-world impact, contributing to improving the quality of playing surfaces and potentially improving athletes’ performance and safety.

“UTIA has been very supportive of our turfgrass research program, and this has allowed us to become recognized as one of the world leaders in all areas for turfgrass research — from weed science to sports turf to basic turfgrass pathology research, to name a few,” said Sorochan. “Being a Vol means being a team, and no one person is bigger than the program. The UT turf team works hard to represent as a team what we believe is best for the turfgrass program, department, institute, university, state, citizens and nation.”

Aligned Nonwoven Composites Using Carding Technology
UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Uday Vaidya, researcher Pritesh Yeole and graduate research assistant Vinit Chaudhary, Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, Tickle College of Engineering


Vaidya, Yeole, and Chaudhary’s project deals with creating value-added material forms from carbon, glass and natural fibers. It can be compared to combing out a ball of tangled hair. For example, waste carbon fiber can be carded or combed into straight fiber that can be woven into value-added engineered products. The process also creates opportunities to minimize landfill and use fibers in subsequent applications that range from mass transit, trucks, cars and boats to sporting goods and other areas.

The award funds will be used to expand the scale of the carding and combing to produce materials that will enable prototype parts to discuss with potential customers.

“With industry partners such as the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation and opportunities at the UT Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, the Bredesen Center and the UT Research Foundation, the ecosystem offers amazing opportunities for entrepreneurship, high-impact research and workforce development for the next generation,” said Vaidya.


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,