November 20, 2015

Contact: Dean Wendt

Cal Poly Honors Faculty, Staff Who Received $26 Million in Grant Funding in 2014-15

Four patent holders also honored, along with four employees who’ve secure a combined $50 million in external funding over their careers

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly honored faculty and staff who received $26 million in grants and whose research resulted in four patents for the university in the 2014-15 academic year.

The patented inventions include a substance that keeps fresh-cut fruit from browning; nano-satellite technology that is part of a 2016 mission to Mars; and an addition to an innovative water-purification system that saves lives in times of natural disasters.

“Last year, we had 570 externally funded research projects, which is as many as we’ve ever had in the institution’s history,” Dean Wendt, the university’s dean of research, said at a campus reception held Nov. 10. “Research by our faculty created robust learning opportunities for our students; improved Cal Poly’s academic reputation among universities, agencies and industry; and taught students that they can Learn by Doing through research.”

Foundations, public agencies and private industry all contract with faculty and staff members in the university’s six colleges for laboratory research and field studies and to develop software, among other projects.

“This external funding directly paid more than $400,000 in tuition, fees and scholarships for our students,” Wendt said. “It purchased more than $700,000 in equipment to improve our facilities, supported the wages of 65 fully benefitted staff, and paid 700 students more than $1.7 million in wages for doing research.”

Wendt credited support of top university leaders for the increased focus on research.

“It is incredibly exciting to see the progress we have made in just a few years,” said Kathleen Enz Finken, Cal Poly’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Our researchers are making Cal Poly a better place.”

University President Jeffrey D. Armstrong echoed the provost’s comments.

“We look forward to enhancing undergraduate research and expanding, over time, research and creative activities with our master’s students,” he said. “Our researchers are leading the way. They’ve been pathfinders.”

Jim Dunning, who manages Cal Poly’s technology transfer program, said research sometimes leads to breakthroughs and patentable inventions that can be commercialized through licensing agreements with private industry, resulting in new products and services technologies. Cal Poly has six such agreements and 22 patents, with 13 patents pending. Dunning said the university has been obtaining “three to four patents a year for the last five years.”

This year’s patent holders are:

— Professor Wyatt Brown and Lab Technician Jim Green from the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences for a food anti-browning composition that helps extend the shelf life of fresh-cut produce;

–– Professor John Chen, a mechanical engineering professor from the College of Engineering, whose patent aides in the detection of internal defects in layered composite material, which are found in a wide array of commercial products, from passenger jets and cars to personal-use products;

— Professor Jordi Puig-Suari and Austin Williams of aerospace engineering for CubeSat, or nano-satellites that piggyback on the launches of larger satellites. The basic CubeSat unit is a box about 4 inches square; larger CubeSats are multiples of that unit. A six-unit CubeSat will be part of a Mars mission scheduled for a March 2016 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base; and

— Professor Tryg Lundquist, a civil and environmental engineering professor, and Cal Poly alumna Tricia Compas-Markman for an extension of the DayOne Waterbag, a portable water purification system they first patented in 2009 that can save lives in times of natural disasters after civic water systems fail.

In addition, four individuals who secured a combined $50 million in grant funding over their Cal Poly careers were honored.

Stuart W. Styles and Charles M. Burt, director and chairman of the board respectively for Cal Poly’s Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC), each has procured more than $20 million in external funding, Wendt said.

John Keller, director of Cal Poly’s Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education, which was awarded more than $1 million in grants in 2014-15, and Nelda Olvera of Student Academic Services, who received earlier this year a $1.45 million grant to assist low-income, first-generation university students over the next five years, each secured $5 million in external funding, Wendt said.

Also receiving $1 million in grants in the year ending June 30 were the ITRC, which was founded in 1989 to provide training and technical expertise to industry, farmers, irrigation districts and public agencies, and the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy, headed by former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, that in May launched Digital Democracy, a pioneering online search tool for reviewing state government hearings in Sacramento.

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