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Centers of Excellence: top breakthrough technologies.

COEP has created more than 2,000 skilled jobs and 50 high-tech companies since its inception.

Drought-resistant turf, new dairy food concepts, 3-D computer graphics software and computer-aided integrated circuit design--these are just a few of the cutting-edge technologies the Utah State Legislature invested in during 1991 through the state's six-year-old Centers of Excellence Program (COEP). Like all investors, the state expects a sizable return on its dollars spent. During the past year, COEP attracted nearly $15 in federal and private funding for every dollar invested. Governor Norman Bangerter and the Utah Legislature developed and funded COEP in 1986 with the expectation that such funding would expedite the transfer of technology from university research labs to the marketplace.

This accelerated commercialization process, which fosters university/industry partnerships, was intended to create new businesses, add skilled jobs, and expand existing companies within the state.

COEP Pays Its Own Way

A quick glance at the "COEP Report to the Legislature for 1991" confirms that the state's investment in the program has paid off handsomely.

For each dollar invested in the commercialization of late-breaking university research, COEP has returned $4.81 to the state's tax base. Additionally, each of those dollars invested has attracted $14.50 in federal and private matching funds--more than $33 million in 1991 alone. The annualized economic impact of the program is nearly $88 million with an annual return to the state of nearly $11 million. COEP has created more than 2,000 skilled jobs and 50 high-tech companies since its inception.

Today there are 24 actively-funded Centers of Excellence located at universities around the state. Six previously funded centers were elevated to Distinguished Center status during 1991. This designation signifies that a center has attracted more than $10 million from outside funding sources or that the center has achieved national recognition for excellence in research. State funding through COEP is limited to a maximum of five years. The following eight Centers of Excellence were funded during the past year.

Responding to a Market Need

The Center for VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) at the University of Utah has developed Path Programmable Logic (PPL), an innovative design approach for compact integrated circuits. This software package was developed in response to a very specific need in the market, said Kent F. Smith, director of the center.

"We have developed software which enables small companies to design their own integrated circuits for a fraction of the usual cost," Smith said. "Companies designing products in which something needs to be controlled--whether it's a fuel injection system or a toy car--can use this software. They can spend $12,000 (the cost of the software package) instead of more than $200,000 to design their own integrated circuit. This is deal for smaller companies and cottage industries looking for a control (integrated circuit) that is inexpensive, easy to produce and reliable. We have sold four of these software packages in Utah."

The market for this software includes more than 40,000 small U.S companies and another 125,000 companies worldwide, Smith said. Hong Kong offers a potentially large market because of all the games, video equipment, commercial electronics and toys produced within its cottage industries. Bonneville Microelectronics, of Salt Lake City, which has licensed the software developed at the center, has been working to develop trade relationships with Hong Kong.

"We do the sales training, work with the customers on chip development, and do library generation," said Brian Taylor, vice president of engineering for Bonneville Microelectronics. "Our task is to get the software into the commercial market. We have established a marketing distribution company in Europe. We have also established marketing support centers in the U.S. I think we have the kind of relationship [with the Center for VLSI] that COEP intended."

Brainstorming a Business

A similar symbolic business relationship developed after a brainstorming session involving personnel from the Center of Excellence for Three-Dimensional Computer Graphics, at Dixie College, and Strata, of St. George, said Eric Pederson, director of the center. Pederson's center, funded in July for advanced research in three-dimensional computer graphics, is the first Center of Excellence located at a two-year college.

"We first began talking with Strata about developing a seminar series to train Strata employees in the use of Stratavision 3-D, the company's primary product," Pederson said. "Stratavision 3-D is an animation software package that creates photo-realistic images. It is used by illustrators, architects and product designers. As our relationship with Strata progressed we discussed bringing in Stravision users from all over the world so that software developers and end-users would have an opportunity to talk to each other. We held training seminars that actually provided face-to-face market research."

As a result of the successful training seminar series, the center established a software development partnership with Strata, Pederson said. Specifically, they are developing libraries of three-dimensional shapes and surface attributes (textures that may be applied to three-dimensional models) which will be marketed through Strata's existing channels of distribution. Dixie College will receive royalties from this endeavor.

"Our COEP funding has been critical to our research and marketing efforts," Pedersen said. "Southern Utah will benefit as well as the college. St. George is a rural community where companies like Strata are vital to the economy. By strengthening this company, we may draw other companies to the area. We're working on that."

Six New Software Technologies

The Center for Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing, at Brigham Young University, in Provo, is working hard as well. Software creation efforts have resulted in the development of six new software technologies--two engineering packages, two in design and two in manufacturing. Three new Utah companies have spun off from the center to produce and market the software--Design Synthesis, Cemetrix and Production Modeling Corp., said Stephen Benzley, the center's director.

One of the engineering software packages, MOVIEBYU, is distributed through BYU to more than 2,000 users around the world. OPTDES, a computer graphics display package, is marketed by Design Synthesis. Pro- Model, a production modeling software package, has been licensed to Cemetrix, of Orem, while Robline, a robotics control package, is being produced and marketed by Production Modeling Corp., also in Orem. CATS, Computer-aided Tolerancy Software, and MAXXICAD, a traditional computer-aided design package, are just beginning the commercialization process, Benzley said.

Finding Genetic Linkages for Cancer

The timetable for moving a new technology or product to market can be highly unpredictable--especially when it involves cancer research. Mark H. Skolnick, who directs the Center for Cancer Genetic Epidemiology at the University of Utah, is cautious when asked to estimate when a home test kit for predicting a genetic predisposition to breast cancer might find its way to the marketplace. Such a valuable detection tool is a planned by-product of the research his group has underway.

Center staff members are utilizing DNA-based diagnostics to determine if a patient has a predisposition to certain genetic forms of cancers. Genetic research at the center is focused on the four most common cancers: breast, colon, prostate, and melanoma (skin cancer). Utah, with its large families and wealth of family-health data, provides an ideal test population for doing genetic linkage studies. Of the four types of cancer included in the study, the breast cancer project is the one furthest along, Skolnick said.

"We have great promise--but it is still in the promise stage," Skolnick said. "We're trying to analyze genes that predispose (people) to certain types of cancer. Predicting when these genes will be found is impossible, but if you take enough shots one will hit. When a gene of any type is found, it is a petentable event."

Reducing the Waste Stream

The Center for Solid Waste Recycling, one of four Centers of Excellence located on the Utah State University campus in Logan, has taken a giant step toward the marketplace with its massive polystyrene extracting machine now undergoing a field trial in Los Angeles. The automated plastics-separating machine was conceived, designed and built at USU with funding from the Huntsman Environmental Research Center. The Utah Department of Community and Economic Development provided additional funding. The Center of Excellence funding has helped to spur the technology transfer effort, said Reed Nielsen, director of the center.

Before shipping the machine to Los Angeles for the field trial, Nielsen and colleague Jerry Goodwin learned "firsthand" what a nasty business extracting polystyrene from the waste stream can be. The two men picked up waste from McDonalds, Arctic Circle and Hardees in Logan to test the machine's capabilities. The local load never took more than about 15 minutes to process, Nielsen said. The machine is actually capable of removing 95 percent of recyclable polystyrene from the waste stream of 40 fast food restaurants in just two hours with the help of five or fewer people. Previously, it took 15 people three hours to remove just 50 percent of the polystyrene products.

"Now that we have the machine in operation, it gives us a better chance to demonstrate what it can do," Nielsen said. "This field test in Los Angeles will help us find out the machine's strengths and shortfalls. Our expectation is that LA will act as a testing ground, then we'll license someone in Utah to build it. If it's as successful as we think it will be, it will bring money into Utah."

Getting Out the Fat

USU's Center for Meat Processing Technologies has created a host of innovative food products that promise to generate new dollars for a variety of Utah industries, including the state's lamb growers. In addition to perfecting breakfast-in-a-cup for school foodservice programs and developing new meat products using laying hens, the center has devised a way to process and package lamb that will improve the flavor, reduce tha fat, extend the shelf life (frozen) for up to a year and may increase its popularity, said Director Von T. Mendenhall.

"The most exciting work we're doing right now is in low-fat meat products," Mendenhall said. "We started with lamb because it has the most saturated fat of the red-meat species. We are working with lamb growers in the state to reduce the fat and develop new lamb products. In Utah, we market nearly a half million lambs annually. Today's consumer will not pay four dollars per pound for lamb fat."

Once the fat is removed, Mendenhall uses a fairly new technology called meat massaging to tenderize the meat. During the physical manipulation of the meat, a process which he likens to using a clothes dryer, phosphates, salt, and water are added. The tenderized meat is formed into lamb loin shape and cut into small chops. The product is then vacuum packed to retain freshness. When purchased, the chops can be browned with the actual cooking completed in a convection oven.

"It will allow the lamb industry to market lamb year-round," he said. We are not creating new technologies but are creating new food-product concepts--and markets--by using them in new ways."

Drought Resistant Turf

Sometimes it takes researchers working together in new ways to speed the creation of new products or technologies. USU scientists with scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) pooled their expertise and resources to develop genetically-enhanced wheat crops and turf grasses through the COEP-funded Center for Value Added Seed Technology, said H. Grant Vest, director of the center. Vest expects that these two wild wheatgrass projects will have a significant impact on agriculture and related businesses in Utah.

Currently, researchers at the center are developing breeding lines of wheat that will increase yields from 10 to 15 percent. The challenge involved in creating hybrid wheat is the difficulty and expense of cross-pollinating it, Vest said. Later generations of the seed are usually inferior because of inbreeding. The researchers have made a genetically identical cross using pure-line seed production techniques. This means that the offspring of the hybrid seed will retain its superiority.

The drought-resistant turf grass project is much closer to commercialization, Vest said. In fact, it could be ready for lawns, golf courses, and other recreational sod-like properties within five years. The special turf seed being researched is considered to be drought-resistant because it will require 25 to 40 percent less water than turf currently available. For the past decade, scientists have been trying to increase the spreading capabilities of crested wheat grasses.

"We're already looking at a marketing infrastructure," Vest said. "Our interest is in maintaining the quality of the seed and in marketing it through Utah-based companies."

New Milk Products

Maintaining quality is also a top priority for scientists at the USU's Center for Dairy Foods Technology. This Center of Excellence uses two cutting-edge technologies--ultrafiltration and ultrahigh temperature processing--to develop new dairy products and to dramatically increase their shelf life.

"Milk is a very rich and complex food fluid," said Paul Savello, director of the center. "I ask why something as rich as milk has been thought of (in terms of food products) as just milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream for so many years? It's like the difference between uses for crude oil in 1901 and in 1991. Milk can be a |white petroleum' because it has very valuable components."

Ultrafiltration is the process Savello uses to fraction milk into those various components. This process uses membranes to separate the protein, amino acids or other components for use in other than traditional dairy products. It fractionalizes the milk components without degrading it. The water, salts, and sugars are removed through membranes which leave concentrated milk behind. If this milk is then processed for a few seconds at ultrahigh temperatures (285 degrees Fahrenheit), it is thick but still pourable and can remain at room temperature if properly packaged, Savello said. The concept is to have a pourable cheesecake. It can also be used as an ingredient in a refrigerated dairy dessert.

Savello also uses a reverse osmosis process during which just the water is removed from the milk which reduces it to half of its original volume. After processing at ultrahigh temperatures, the concentrated milk can be packaged to travel great distances. It can be reconstituted with water from the tap. If refrigerated, it tastes no different from fresh milk, Savello said. Commercially that is a big advantage over powdered milk which is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in other countries. The center has applied for a patent for this product.

PHOTO : Gene sample trays from the University of Utah

PHOTO : Center for Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing, BYU

PHOTO : VLSI Chips, University of Utah

PHOTO : New dairy technology, Utah State University

Elizabeth Walker lives in Logan and is a frequent contributor to Utah Business.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Utah's Centers of Excellence Program expedites transfer of technology from research to the marketplace, creating 2,000 skilled jobs and 50 companies in six years in areas such as computer software, genetic research, waste management, producing low-fat meat, drought-resistant crop development and dairy products extended shelf-life research
Author:Walker, Elizabeth T.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:"Move right in." (Utah business climate)
Next Article:Education: what business can do.

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