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Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry (left IMAGE: PENN STATE) and Ganesh Anand, associate professor of chemistry (IMAGE: PROVIDED)

By Gail McCormick

Two faculty members have been selected to receive Lab Bench to Commercialization (LB2C) grants from the Eberly College of Science in 2021. The competitive program provides funding for researchers in the college, enabling them to enhance the commercial potential of ongoing research and prepare them to translate their intellectual property to the marketplace.

This year's grant recipients are Lauren Zarzar, assistant professor of chemistry, and Ganesh Anand, associate professor of chemistry.

Zarzar, in collaboration with her graduate student Caleb Meredith, was awarded LB2C funding for her project titled “Structural Coloration from Microscale Interfaces.” They are developing a method for producing new kinds of color-shifting materials based on a recently discovered optical effect that uses reflective structures at the microscale to generate iridescent structural color. The researchers create different color-shifting appearances by varying the microstructure shapes and sizes, and thus the allowed paths of reflection traveled by different wavelengths of visible light.

The iridescent materials produced by their method may have applications as anti-counterfeiting features, decorative elements on packaging and apparel, and in sensors and display technology.

Anand was awarded LB2C funding for his project titled “Targeting Virus Breathing Hotspots for Antibody Discovery.” Anand looks for vulnerabilities on a virus that could be tapped to generate antibodies for use in antiviral therapies. He is particularly interested in understanding the structural changes of viral surface proteins as the virus dissembles and enters human host cells. These structural changes — part of a process called viral breathing — could reveal critical locations — called epitopes — where antibodies can bind to the virus.

Anand will then work with collaborators to test the effectiveness of antibodies designed to target certain epitopes that, for example, occur across a variety of virus variants or are particularly accessible. This approach, which uniquely seeks to merge the biophysical insights of viral breathing with targeted antibody discovery, preemptively identifies new antibodies and could thus greatly advance viral pandemic preparedness.

Application Criteria And Awards

To apply for the LB2C grant program, applicants must demonstrate that the funding will significantly impact development activities for existing intellectual property or research that may be commercialized.

Research and inventions include tangible products, therapeutics, processes/methods, software, or improvement of a current market product. After being reviewed for scientific merit and commercialization potential, awardees are granted funds to be used within one year.

In addition to funding, researchers also have the added benefit of working with the Eberly College of Science Office for Innovation and Office of Technology Management, which assist grantees in critically evaluating their technology, find market applications, and provide development and commercialization plan feedback. These services, along with the funding, provide inventors with the opportunity to take their inventions from the lab bench to the public sector where they can see real societal benefits.

For more information about the opportunities available through the Office for Innovation, contact innovation@science.psu.edu.

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