Rochester-based company SiMPore, Inc. will facilitate the transition of cutting-edge molecular filter technology, developed last year by UR scientists, from laboratory research to practical application in the marketplace. The New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation granted UR $473,000, an amount SiMPore will match, to support the state’s economic development through investments in innovative technology.
SiMPore will use this money to commercialize a porous, high-pressure-enduring, silicon-film membrane that is only 50 atoms thick. Christopher Striemer, Ph.D., is one of the principle creators of the unique technology.
Striemer, began his research on the new membrane as a graduate student at UR, with the help of Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Philippe Fauchet, Biomedical Engineering graduate student Thomas Gaborski and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and President of SiMPore James McGrath.
The co-creator of the filter described the potential importance of this membrane.
“It’s amazing, we have a material as thin as some of the molecules it’s sorting, and even riddled with holes, but can withstand enough pressure to make real-world nanofiltering a practical reality,” Striemer said.
“The membrane is more than three orders of magnitude thinner than any other membrane material on the planet,” McGrath said. “Its significance to biological research lies in the remarkable efficiency with which it separates molecules based on size or charge.”
Among its applications, this filter can potentially enable scientists to more easily identify and separate protein and drug molecules such as blood proteins for dialysis patients and facilitate the discovery and production of new drugs.
Dialysis patients could benefit from the new filter because it could potentially be used for the construction of wearable blood dialysis systems. The filter shows unprecedented efficiency in separating molecules based on size and charge.
The material is based on the same silicon wafer material found in the manufacturing of computer chips, which, according Striemer, makes the technology to be highly manufacturable.
“[The membrane] also contains pores that are 5nm to 100nm in diameter (size can be adjusted), enabling us to separate certain biological molecules, simply based on their size (some go through, while others don’t fit through it),” Striemer said. “Because the membrane is so thin, this separation process can be very fast – much faster than any other membrane material.”
SiMPore received exclusive rights to commercialize the membrane technology after it licensed the work in April 2007, two months after the research was first seen in the science journal, Nature. Now a state program has recognized and supported the University and private company’s collaboration with a grant.
“The research group that has developed the membrane is working with SiMPore so that the company can make membranes of high quality and in commercial quantities,” McGrath said.
NYSTAR’s mission is to benefit New York’s economical development through technological breakthroughs and commercialization of those breakthroughs. Technology Transfer Incentive Program is a subdivision under NYSTAR with a goal “to help business make the rapid transfer of new ideas and new technology from the research lab to the marketplace,” according to the NYSTAR Web site.
NYSTAR reaches out to New York State public and private research institutions by investing in “job-creating technologies of tomorrow,” as stated in the NYSTAR Web site. Applications for NYSTAR grants are reviewed based on their merit, importance to science and potential economic impact on the state’s economy. The molecular filter funding was one of only two Technology Transfer Incentive Program grants provided this year.
“This grant will help us push into new frontiers of nanotechnology-based separations during the next two years,” McGrath said.
McGrath commented on the unique connection SiMPore and UR share in the effort to further scientific technologies.
Now, with the enlisted help of UR scientists, who will continue to work on the commercialized technology, and the financial support of NYSTAR, SiMPore is looking to make this technology available in the wider marketplace.
“Eventually, if everything works right, the UR group will be one of many customers buying membranes from the company we helped create,” McGrath said.
McGrath discussed the connection that exists between the private company and University research.
“Even if SiMPore becomes large and independent, I suspect UR and SiMPore will always have a special relationship. SiMPore will be busy making and selling to meet market demand and so they will not have much time for exploratory research,” he said.
“Through our continued research in the lab, UR scientists and engineers will discover new applications for these membranes and many of these will represent new markets for the company.”
Leber is a member of the class of 2011.