Stellar Innovation: Students Turn NASA Patents Into Practical Solutions – University of Alabama News
Students, from left, André Farnet, Lauren Davis and Abby Fickel.
There are 40,000 burn injuries requiring hospital treatment in the United States annually. Treatment is tedious and expensive. What if healing was faster, cheaper, and patient outcomes could be improved?
What if NASA technology could be used to help?
A team of students from the University of Alabama recently partnered with NASA to turn technology discovered by the space agency into workable products. As part of the UA Culverhouse College of Business’ STEM and CREATE PATH to MBA programs, the NASA Technology Transfer University program, or NASA T2U, it enables freshmen and sophomores to use NASA intellectual property to address existing challenges to solve.
“Working on NASA patents is not just a lot of technical research, it’s also market research,” said Lauren Davis, a native of Dacula, Ga., Studied mechanical engineering and part of the STEM PATH to MBA program at UA. “We had to understand the problems involved in treating burn wounds while developing a business model that included market knowledge and prototyping.”
During this seven-week innovation project, students create market assessments and business plans by working with a high-tech patent portfolio. In addition, students gain access to NASA’s scientists and innovators, giving them a unique insight into the details of the technology.
“The T2U-NASA projects we carry out are usually the students’ favorite projects and lead to most of the corporate startups and Aldag Business Pitch Competition teams that come from the STEM / CREATE program,” said Dr. Robert Morgan, Director of the MBA Path Programs and Professor of Marketing. “I think most Americans, especially college-aged Americans, admire what NASA represents and are excited to be part of the NASA mission.”
Students are given the opportunity to start with technical details of a patent and finish by submitting a workable business proposal, making the UA program attractive to both students and employers, said Harold Wright, clinical lecturer on the STEM and CREATE path Program that mentors students in the NASA T2U experience.
“They take this incredibly complex information and turn it into solutions to real problems,” said Wright. “These students are in demand because they learn the ability to do complex things simply, and that is useful for anything they could do after graduation.”
One of the greatest advantages of working with NASA patents is the experience of being part of a team, said André Farnet, who is a mechanical engineer and is part of the STEM Path to MBA program.
“Communication is a big deal because you have to be able to speak to the other people you’re working with who cover different areas of the project,” said Farnet, who is from New Orleans, Louisiana. “In the end it all comes together and then you learn how to communicate your ideas to others.”
Farnet’s NASA T2U team worked last spring with a NASA patent on a method of forming human tissue by seeding high-density dots of skin cells that can be layered to form three-dimensional tissue.
The students decided to take the patent on laboratory fabricated tissue and link it to advances in the treatment of fish skin burns. This method would make the tissue more effective at healing burn wounds and meet a medical need while opening up business opportunities.
Abby Fickel, a Hartland, Wisconsin native, who is studying physics and psychology on the pre-med track, said NASA’s T2U program taught her more about the field of biomedical research.
“It combines what I learn in the classroom with what we learn through the program so we can see an impact on real-world problems,” she said.
Adam Jones, UA Communications, 205-348-4328, firstname.lastname@example.org
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