U of I on track to change the world with innovations

From inventing new technologies to advancing science, University of Illinois is ranked the 25th most innovative university in the world. (WCCU)

From the fastest charging solar-powered battery to agriculture robots that can speed data collection of crops as they grow, University of Illinois’ Research Park is home to students, faculty, and corporate innovative centers that are on track to help change the world.

In its most recent release, Reuters ranked University of Illinois System the 25th most innovative university in the world out of 100.

“Innovation is in this community's DNA,” associate director of U of I’s Research Park Laura Bleill said. “It's really part of the fabric of whom we are and what we do and why we've been so successful as an institution and as a community.”

While the university is composed of three campuses, Reuters highlighted the award-winning research park in Champaign as the reason for its high ranking.

“It provides opportunities for students to use their skills to develop and apply the ones they're using in a classroom in an environment where those skills are needed and wanted and valued,” Bleill said.

Blossoming in 1999, Research Park consists of 17 buildings today with more than 100 leading companies that helped establish innovation centers. Reuters classified U of I as an educational institution contributing to ‘advancing science, starting new markets and inventing new technologies.’

Some of the most innovative products many use today came from entrepreneurs who first put the idea to a test on campus years ago like residential air conditioning, whipped cream in a can and plasma televisions.

Fox Champaign went to Research Park and landed in Enterprise Works to take a glimpse at what new ideas students are creating in our backyard.

Co-founder and CEO of LifeFoundry Inc., Ran Chao, said his team uses robotic tools to apply automation skills in an effort to reduce human error in science labs.

"Our central robot is a 7-axis collaborative industrial arm mounted to an autonomous ground vehicle that is programmatically controlled to navigate in a lab space,” Chao said.

That includes work in bioprocessing, like creating vaccines or performing DNA assembly or cloning. The robot can get certain tasks done in just days that would otherwise take two years.

Other startups include a device that helps physicians quickly and accurately diagnose middle ear infections.

“The device can see through the eardrums so visualize the middle ear without having to cut the eardrum open,” co-founder and CEO of PhotoniCare Inc., Ryan Shelton said.

PhotonicCare’s device can help doctors make better decisions about treatment.

“The current way to diagnosis it is basically a magnifying glass they use what's called an otoscope and that's basically just a lens and a LED and they look at the surface of the eardrum,” Shelton said.

The device can see through tissue.

"We use special light to see that eardrum and visualize what's back there and give them a picture of both of the surface and what's behind it,” Shelton said.

There have been hundreds of startups at the University including those that prevent fires caused by batteries and extending batteries lifetime; and a solar-powered panel that allows Wi-Fi to reach up to nearly 1,000 feet. The list goes on.

“It's really about a continuum so from that first kernel of an idea all the way into making that first sale,” Bleill said. “[Research Park] is for aspiring entrepreneurs to really stir the pot of what their ideas and dreams could be, but it’s also a place where businesses can launch and thrive in the early stages."

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