Innovation tangibles head to state capitol

Martin Gross and Zhiyou Wen

(l-r) Martin Gross and Zhiyou Wen cofounded Gross-Wen Technologies, one of the innovation success stories legislators will hear about March 5 during ISU Day at the Capitol. Submitted image.

University leaders will take the new "Innovate at Iowa State" theme to the statehouse March 5 for the annual ISU Day at the Capitol. Joining them will be students, alumni, partners and Iowa business owners whose entrepreneurial visions were shaped, assisted or jump-started at Iowa State. They will share with legislators their stories of breakthrough research, "eureka moment" ideas and community engagement. ISU Day at the Capitol runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the building's rotunda.

"We're demonstrating to a key audience -- our legislators -- how the culture of innovation at Iowa State benefits the people of Iowa," said Jacy Johnson, interim executive director of strategic relations and communications. "They'll interact and get firsthand experience with 20 projects or initiatives that represent the foundation of Iowa State's $3.4 billion annual impact to the state's economy. That foundation is innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking."

Legislators will hear about an entrepreneurial network at Iowa State involving dozens of support programs, innovation experts and collaborators.

For example, ag engineering senior Justin Wright will share the story of WashWright, his company which produces robotic power washing machines for livestock farms. A major part of his story is the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Pappajohn Center's CyStarters summer accelerator program for students, which Wright completed last summer. He's also participating in the 52-week Startup Factory program in the ISU Research Park, which kicked off in January.

Here are a few other Iowa State-driven innovations ISU Day at the Capitol will showcase:

Data at work

Assistant professor of human development and family studies Cassandra Dorius serves as project leader for ISU's multicollege project to help Iowa communities access and analyze their own data to resolve local challenges. She'll share outcomes from the pilot project in Marshalltown, where a July 2018 tornado increased demand on already underperforming public transportation. Collaborating with ISU Extension and Outreach and the Iowa League of Cities, by this summer "Data Sciences for Public Good" will expand to four more communities. Each community identifies its problem; an ISU team of researchers helps them address it.

Soil quality

Back in 2013, classmates in the biorenewable resources and technology graduate program (affiliated with the Bioeconomy Institute) founded Advanced Renewable Technology International – or ARTi for short – to develop technologies that turn Iowa biomass waste (corn stalks, wood chips) into biochar. This carbon material is engineered to improve soil quality. In addition to domestic clients, the Prairie City-based company has clients in Canada, China and Ireland. President and graduate student Bernardo del Campo will share ARTi's story.

Bio-based replacement products

Shining light on another use for agricultural biomass, a group of scientists who represent both the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites and the chemical and biological engineering (CBE) department will share samples of the products they develop from the renewable resource. These include fiber board and plywood made from bioglycerin, biopolymer asphalt and biopolymer tensile bars for strength tests. Center director and CBE professor Eric Cochran will talk about using manufacturing systems available in rural communities to create products the state and country need.

Locally competitive retailers

Iowa Retail Initiative co-directors Linda Niehm and Jessica Hurst, faculty members in apparel, events and hospitality management, will share the initiative's track record with small businesses in more than 40 Iowa communities. Connecting through ISU Extension's community and economic development division, ISU students provide independent retailers with fresh marketing, promotion and display strategies to compete successfully with national chain stores.

New-gen solder technology

Materials research at Iowa State on supercooled metal particles as a next-generation lead-free solder created a startup company, SAFI-Tech, which licensed the patented technology from the ISU Research Foundation. Ian Tevis, co-founder of SAFI-Tech and former Iowa State post-doc, will demonstrate this technology for legislators. Demand for no-heat solder is especially strong in the electronics manufacturing industry because removing heat from the manufacturing process allows for smaller, flexible designs. SAFI-Tech is an affiliate company in the ISU Research Park.

Algae at work on wastewater

Gross-Wen Technologies, a 2014 startup company of Iowa State researchers, is making a name for itself in algae-based, environmentally friendly municipal water treatment. In its process, algae extracts nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, and the resulting biomass can be repurposed as fertilizer or bioplastic. Gross-Wen is working with cities as large as Chicago, as small as Slater, Iowa, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the process.