Big 12 Economic Conference Has Baylor Flavor

March 29, 2007

by Frank Raczkiewicz

Calling them scientific "super stars" who encourage technological development, a Baylor University researcher and a Baylor alumnus were honored earlier this month at the Big 12 Innovation and Capital Formation Conference in Kansas City. Several other Baylor researchers also presented their work at the conference, which brought together some of the brightest minds of the Big 12 universities along with venture capitalists and business leaders to discuss strategies for commercializing technologies and accessing investment capital to drive economic development in the Big 12 seven-state region.

At the conference, Dr. Ian Gravagne, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor, was honored with the "rising star" award, which was given to him along with 11 other Big 12 professors.

"There are so many qualified faculty at Baylor doing great research with the potential to solve practical problems," Gravagne said. "I was humbled to be chosen out of the blue, but proud to represent Baylor at this important event."

Gravagne received the award for his research into two main areas. The first is examining the application of a new branch of mathematics to the problem of distributed control networks. Distributed control networks link together all of the sensors, actuators and computers in complex systems such as cars and airplanes. If successful, the research will permit the various devices on the network to communicate more efficiently, which ultimately translates into greater financial efficiencies.

Gravagne's second research focus revolves around designs that can enable automated user identification and data acquisition for users of exercise circuits. An exercise circuit is simply a series of exercise stations arranged in a circle. A team of electrical and mechanical engineers studied several ways to automate user tracking and monitoring in a way that is transparent to the user and wastes none of the user's short time on each exercise station. Several patent applications arose from this research and other work on the project.

Additionally, 12 "Big 12 Heroes" were recognized at the conference during an awards banquet. Mark Hurd, a 1979 Baylor alumnus and CEO, chairman of the board and president of Hewlett-Packard, were among those honored. These "heroes" represent leaders who have encouraged innovation in their respective Big 12 communities.

The conference also included an innovation showcase featuring presentations of 36 innovations rated as having strong commercialization potential. Several Baylor researchers presented their work:

• Dr. Kevin Chambliss and Dr. Peter van Walsum presented their research into the by-products that are created when making cellulosic ethanol. The researchers said Baylor is one of only a handful of universities in the world conducting this type of analysis.

• Dr. Kevin Pinney presented his work into a new compound that might lead to a new drug to treat clinical depression. The new compound could allow for fewer side effects.

• Dr. Charles Garner presented his research into an organic gelling agent, which allows organic liquids like oils to be immobilized as transparent gels. They resist the flow of gravity indefinitely and are stable to water over a wide pH range. They have been studied for making gel candles and several other applications.

• Dr. Greg Leman gave a presentation of the different programs in technology entrepreneurship at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. Specifically, Leman talked about the summer abroad program Baylor is launching in Shanghai that combines business and technical students from Baylor and a Chinese university. Leman discussed how other Big 12 schools could participate in the program and not have to recreate the whole thing from scratch.

"This meeting of Big 12 Universities shows how research and development continues to strengthen both at Baylor and across the conference," said Dr. Truell Hyde, vice provost for research at Baylor. "Baylor now has more than 25 research institutes and centers with many leading to discovery in areas that directly impact regional economic development. Baylor will continue to collaborate with other Big 12 universities and community and business leaders to bring these ideas to market."

For more information, contact Dr. Hyde at (254) 710-3763.