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WVU Innovation Awards celebrate big ideas that are changing the world

Innovation Award winners

West Virginia University is capping off a banner year for Mountaineer innovation by recognizing groundbreaking work ranging from the neurons in human brains to the deepest reaches of our universe.

WVU’s third annual Innovation Awards presented Thursday celebrated the discovery, creation and production of inventive and progressive ideas, methods and products that promote society’s growth.

Five awards were presented to faculty, administrators, staff and students who have transformed their research into a broad range of commercial products and methods that create value and benefit society.

Valeriya Gritsenko and Sergiy Yakovenko received the Early Career Innovator Award;Julie Brefczynski-Lewis received the Established Career Innovator Award; Brandon Lucke-Wold and Michael Morehead received the Student Innovator Award; the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions received the Presidential Innovation Service Award; and the Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Collaborative Research.

“Land-grants and other major research universities have produced some of the greatest advances in society,”  President Gordon Gee said in prepared remarks welcoming the nominees and guests. “And it is land-grant and other research universities like ours that must lead the next generation of innovation.”

“These awards honor ideas – new inventions, methods and results that move our world forward.”

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Collaborative Research is a new award that recognizes a team that is making internationally recognized discoveries or innovations.

“The nature of research is changing rapidly and is no longer an individual pursuit,”  Fred King, vice president for  research, said. “Many of today’s problems are far more complex and require the depth and breadth of knowledge that only a team can provide. The most exciting findings now appear at the interfaces of disciplines and arise from the collaborative work of multidisciplinary teams seeking to advance our understanding of nature and improve the human condition.”

Keynote speaker Mike Green, president of the West Virginia Board of Education and a founding member of West Virginia Growth Investment, congratulated WVU’s honorees and shared his experiences working with early stage companies and angel investment groups, coaching entrepreneurs and speaking about business and investment issues.

Early Career Innovator Award
The Early Career Innovator Award honors researchers who have been employed with the University for six or fewer years and whose work exemplifies the spirit of innovation, commercialization or entrepreneurship.

Gritsenko and Yakovenko, both assistant professors of human performance in the School of Medicine and researchers at the Centers for Neuroscience, are at the frontline of research and development of rehabilitation of movement impairments, such as those associated with post-stroke disability.

Their goal is to make rehabilitation more accessible, affordable and fun by developing algorithms and devices for quantitative analysis of movement deficits and delivering subject-specific robotic and virtual reality rehabilitation in the form of engaging rehab-games.

Established Career Innovator Award
The Established Career Innovator Award honors researchers who have been employed with the University for more than six years and whose work exemplifies the spirit of innovation, commercialization or entrepreneurship.

Brefczynski-Lewis, a neuroscientist in the School of Medicine and researcher at the Centers for Neuroscience, has multiple patent applications
 for a new wearable positron emission tomography, or PET, imager that will enable high-resolution imaging of the brain while the subject is upright and moving, enabling imaging of patients who cannot be still due to physical or mental disorders, as well as scans of active physical tasks.

Brefczynski-Lewis is also leading the White House’s BRAIN initiative grant at WVU, which is a multi-institutional team that is generating the next-generation PET helmet device. WVU was among a small group of elite institutions that received a first-round BRAINinitiative award.

Student Innovator Award
The Student Innovator Award honors current undergraduate or graduate students, or a team of students, who have been innovative or entrepreneurial during their WVU careers.

Lucke-Wold, a medical and graduate student in the School of Medicine, is researching how concussion contributes to neurodegenerative changes in the brain. Two of his first-author scientific papers with Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Bennett Omalu, two leading researchers on concussions, are looking at the role of endoplasmic reticulum stress and oxidative stress in the development of neurodegeneration after traumatic brain injury. Together they have discovered a potential treatment for concussion-related neurodegeneration and are patenting the process at WVU.

Morehead is a graduate student in computer science and a researcher with at the Centers for Neuroscience. He is the co-founder of IstoVisR, a company focused on building scientific software for immersive virtual reality systems. These technologies could accelerate the discovery of novel trends in brain circuitry and advance clinical techniques in diseases like schizophrenia, autism and Alzheimer’s. Morehead is a native of Bridgeport.

Presidential Innovation Service Award
The Presidential Innovation Service Award honors administrators, faculty or staff members who have shared expertise, provided services or mentored individuals to help grow and expand innovation, commercialization or entrepreneurship at WVU.

The Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, led by Director Dan Carder, is a team of nine faculty members, five full-time staff engineers, five technicians and more than 30 graduate students who are conducting high-level research, testing and evaluation on emissions reduction.

The center’s groundbreaking work attracted worldwide attention when the  results of its 2014 study revealed that Volkswagen diesel engines in the United States were emitting oxides of nitrogen – one of the top six common air pollutants – by up to 35 times regulatory standards.

Their research sparked an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that led to changes to regulatory testing practices and the automaker’s admission to a “defeat device” that altered the vehicles’ emissions control technologies.

Presidential Award for Excellence in Collaborative Research
The Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology brings together experts from across departments and institutions who are working 
to characterize
 the universe and understand its origins. It is a collaboration of faculty, students and post-doctoral researchers who are focused on working together to pursue fundamental research in gravitational wave astrophysics and cosmology.

In 2015, this collaborative approach enabled WVU to become a lead university in a  $14.5 million National Science Foundation grant to create and operate a Physics Frontier Center, as well as a  $2 million NSF grant to expand the reach and impact of WVU’s highly successful Pulsar Search Collaboratory student science education initiative.

In addition, the global reach and groundbreaking potential of the center’s work was demonstrated by the recent announcement of the  observation of gravitational waves that confirmed the final prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity. It was a multi-year international collaborative research endeavor in which members of the center played key roles.

Award winners received a commemorative plaque and $5,000 toward their innovation efforts.

A committee of judges, internal and external to the University, chose the honorees. The judging criteria were based on recognition of excellence in applied innovation through the quality and status of project development; impact on society; contribution to University innovation, commercialization or entrepreneurship; and use of University resources.

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