Deshpande Center funds eight projects


Projects in nanotechnology, information technology and alternative energy are among those funded in the first round of "Ignition" grants awarded this year to engineering faculty members by the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.

The Ignition grants are intended to benefit projects in the early conceptual stages to help catapult risky ideas into research that, if proven successful, would have broad implications on technological innovation. Judged by the Deshpande Center's steering committee and an extended panel of experts, grant recipients are selected based on the novelty and potential impact of the proposed research programs.

The Deshpande Center, part of the School of Engineering, was established in 2002 through a $20 million gift from Jaishree Deshpande and Desh Deshpande, co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks (MIT Tech Talk, Jan. 9, 2002). It aims to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the marketplace by supporting research by MIT faculty and students and facilitating collaboration among entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, innovative businesses and faculty. In addition to receiving research funding (up to $50,000 apiece), grant recipients are introduced to business resources on and off campus.

The 2003 grant recipients are:

  • Nanocrystal Non-Volatile Memory Devices (Vladimir Bulovic), which could lead to smaller, faster and lower-voltage memory for computers, cameras and other electronic devices by combining organic chemistry and quantum dot technology.
  • Contrast Reduction for Digital Photography and Video (Fredo Durand), a new image processing technology that could be the key to taking full advantage of new high-dynamic-range digital cameras.
  • Distributed Slowdown Warning System for Safe Highways (Eric Feron), which would make the highways safer for drivers, even if a small fraction of vehicles had them installed.
  • Image Analysis for Digital Cameras (William Freeman), which would let cameras recognize objects, making it easier to edit photographs and possibly enhance them automatically.

Reusable Deformations for Com-puter Animation (Jovan Popovic), which would make the time-consuming work of animating characters much faster and easier.

  • Metallization on Solar Cells (Emanuel Sachs), a method for applying circuitry to solar cells that could make them much more affordable and energy efficient.
  • Novel Air Electrode Designs for Metal-Air Batteries and Fuel Cells (Yang Shao-Horn), a new electrode technology that could lead to an inexpensive, environmentally friendly and energy-efficient storage method.
  • Bridging Nanolithography with Industrial Production (Francesco Stellacci), which could solve the most elusive challenge with nanotechnology: scaling the manufacturing process.

The Deshpande Center also has supported a faculty workshop and an open house including entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The center also co-hosted a panel discussion on intellectual property and a team-building dinner for the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition.
"It's truly rewarding to reflect on the momentum and progress the center has made since the launch," said Desh Deshpande. "I'm confident that the technologies we're funding will make a significant impact on the market."

The Deshpande Center plans to award $15 million in Ignition and Innovation program grants over the next four years. The next round of grants will be awarded in fall 2003. More information can be found on the web at http://web.mit.edu/deshpandecenter.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 2003.


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