Florida High Tech Corridor Program Matches Emerging USF Talent, Startups & Industry – University of South Florida

TAMPA – From autonomous vehicles to drug development to cybersecurity, USF researchers exploring new frontiers in these rapidly expanding fields are part of a larger mosaic of innovation that extends across the state through the Florida High Tech Corridor.

While younger than many of the nation’s most famous technology regions, the corridor’s focus on developing public and private sector collaborations through the Matching Grants Research Program also serves a second, but equally important, purpose: Fueling the region’s talent pipeline so that progress made in past 25 years continues to gain momentum and becomes self-perpetuating.

Since 1996, the program has delivered an estimated $1 billion in value and an incalculable impact on the lives of students whose hands-on participation in these real-world research programs has given them an unparalleled opportunity to be a part of innovation as it happens. In the last academic year, nearly 60 USF undergraduate, graduate students, and postdoc researchers joined in projects in the labs of dozens of USF faculty members working in partnership with companies.

Meet some of the USF students and postdocs of the matching grants research program

David Young

Research: Analysis and Performance Testing of Molekule Technologies

Faculty Advisor: Distinguished Professor Yogi Goswami

Industry Partner: Molekule

David Young is a doctoral researcher in the USF College of Engineering’s Clean Energy Research Center. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy who went on to serve in multiple international assignments and deployments in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Dr. Young began a new career in clean energy research after leaving the military.

“I am fortunate to have the ability to do research for Molekule under the guidance of Dr. Yogi Goswami – this is an experience another university simply cannot provide. The importance of conducting experimental research to increase the effectiveness of a Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) nanotechnology which can kill airborne COVID viruses is a real motivator. As a researcher your life experience, knowledge, ability to understand other state-of-the-art technology research, and learn from your experiments factor into steps toward progress. Even experimental results which did not improve existing technology are discoveries. Happy to say some methods to advance PECO technology were discovered with our research and experimentation!”

Avtar Singh

Research: Analysis and Performance Testing of Molekule Technologies

Faculty Advisor: Distinguished Professor Yogi Goswami

Industry Partner: Molekule

Dr. Singh received his PhD degree in Chemistry in 2015 from the Punjabi University in India. In April 2018, he joined the Clean Energy Research Center as postdoc research scholar under the guidance of led by Dr. Goswami. His work is focused on indoor air purification.

“Clean air is essential for being healthy. Countless studies have shown that air pollution affects everyone from an unborn child to the elderly. As a researcher, I am devoted to changing the world for better air.”

Manisha Antony

 Research: Developing a novel therapeutic for treating tinnitus

Faculty Advisor: Professor Joseph Walton

Industry Partner: Cognosetta

Manisha Anthony recently graduated from USF with a degree in biomedical science and plans on attending medical school. She has been doing research at USF Professor Joseph Walton’s auditory neuroscience lab in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders for nearly two years. The lab focuses on studying tinnitus, a hearing disorder caused by age-related hearing loss or noise-induced trauma, and for which there are few effective treatments to lessen symptoms and no cure. She joined a project in Dr. Walton’s startup, Cognosetta, in 2020 that is working to develop a new drug to address tinnitus.

“Through my experience at Cognosetta, I was able to gain substantial knowledge that will help me with my future endeavors. I was able to be involved in various aspects of the research and the challenges I faced in this research has helped me be more independent and develop critical thinking skills. The most rewarding part for this experience was the wonderful opportunities for our team to present our accomplishments at the Undergraduate Research Conference and Association for Research in Otolaryngology. I am grateful to be a part of this research lab as it has opened an interest in neuroscience for me, which I hope to continue to study in the future. Most importantly I would like to thank my mentors Dr. Joseph Walton, Dr. Luisa Scott and Dr. Collin Park for guiding me and helping me achieve this honor.”

Kristie Labib

Research: Developing a novel therapeutic for treating tinnitus

Faculty Advisor: Professor Joseph Walton

Industry Partner: Cognosetta

Kristie Labib recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences and will be starting at the USF Morsani College of Medicine in the fall of 2021. She also worked as an undergraduate in Dr. Walton’s lab on research projects on pharmaceutical and therapeutic methods at alleviating symptoms of tinnitus.

“My most valued experience in this research was my involvement in a project that examined the effectiveness of a new drug at suppressing symptoms of tinnitus. I was fortunate to work diligently on it with the support of my mentors Dr. Joseph Walton, Dr. Luisa Scott, and Dr. Collin Park. We observed successful results, which then drove me to write a USF Honors thesis on the neurological benefits of the drug on tinnitus symptoms. Additionally, we had the data presented on posters at both the Undergraduate Research Conference and the Association for Research in Otolaryngology. As part of the Cognosetta, Inc., team our work allowed us to be selected as one of the 21 Fibonacci Finalists in the Cade Prize research competition for Florida’s most innovative startups. Being able to share these achievements with my colleagues allowed us to grasp the impact we have on medicine through this project.
“I will forever be indebted to USF and my mentors, as this journey in tinnitus research fueled my desire to pursue a career in medicine. Although my experiences were unforgettable, I wish that this would only be the beginning of my journey, as I would like to pursue a career as an otolaryngologist after medical school.”

Malak Ibrahim

Research: Developing a novel therapeutic for treating tinnitus

Faculty Advisor: Professor Joseph Walton

Industry Partner: Cognosetta

Malak Ibrahim recently graduated from USF with a major in biomedical sciences and a minor in psychology. She will start at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in the fall. She conducted her undergraduate research on a potential pharmaceutical to treat tinnitus at USF’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research under Dr. Walton with the additional mentorship of Dr. Collin Park and Dr. Luisa Scott.

Malak conducted her USF Honors thesis work on the neurological testing used to evaluate a novel therapeutic theorized to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus, as well as presented this research at USF’s 2021 Undergraduate Research Symposium. She hopes to continue conducting promising research as a future medical student and physician in order to advance medicine and healthcare.

“My years conducting research under Dr. Walton have proved to be an invaluable experience. I learned how to innovate and adapt in a professional, collaborative manner, skills that I am sure will aid me in my next step as a medical student. I also gained an appreciation for the medical applications of scientific exploration and how transformative they can be in healthcare.”

Fatemeh Khorramshahi

Research: Fast Charging Flexible Supercapacitors

Faculty Advisor: Associate Professor Arash Takshi

Industry Partner: PolyMaterials App

Fatemeh Khorramshahi earned her PhD in Electrical Engineering from USF in August 2020 under the supervision of Associate Professor Arash Takshi. Her PhD works included research into the use of perovskite – a mineral scientists can design to have a wide variety of physical, optical, and electrical characteristics – in optoelectronic devices, enhancing the Perovskite flexible solar cells performance, as well as studying the piezo-phototronic effect in semiconductors. Upon earning her doctorate, she joined VTT Technical Research Center of Finland as a research scientist where she is working on the several parts of the ongoing European Union Graphene Flagship research project. Dr. Khorramshashi holds a master’s degree from Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) in Photonics Engineering. She has also served as a researcher at University of Tehran and Columbia University.

Behnam Zeinail Rizi

Research: Data-Driven Intelligence for Active Identification and Characterization

Faculty Advisor: Professor Morris Chang

Industry Partner: SOFWERX

Behnam Zeinali Rizi is a PhD student and a member of Professor Morris Chang’s lab in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Rizi describes himself as “passionate about the field of artificial intelliegence” and his research focuses are on machine and deep learning, computer vision, and mobile application programming. He is interested in deploying machine learning applications on IoT devices with optimum energy consumption. For example, recently he has been working on skin lesion classification on IoT devices and using a machine learning model to intelligently identify weak classified samples and send them to the server to obtain better classification results.

“Before starting my journey as a (College of Engineering) PhD student, I thought that I had enough experience in my major. However, USF opened new horizons in the development of my education and my skills. USF has brought me this excellent opportunity to work on state-of-the-art research projects and expand my knowledge and experience in my field. Moreover, in the field of machine learning, I have now this chance to work with and learn from a knowledgeable supervisor, well-educated lab mates, as well as many compassionate and dutiful professors in a friendly environment.”

Di Zhuang

Research: Data-Driven Intelligence for Active Identification and Characterization

Faculty Advisor: Professor Morris Chang

Industry Partner: SOFWERX

Di Zhuang graduated with his PhD in electrical engineering at USF in May. He has been conducting research in cybersecurity, social network science, privacy enhancing technologies, machine learning and deep learning as part of Professor Chang’s lab . His research is focus on enabling privacy protection while conducting machine learning or deep learning. For instance, one of his research works aims to design an effective and efficient privacy-preserving distributed deep learning approach, that enables multi-party collaboratively training an accurate deep learning model while protects the training data coming from each party. Part of his research work has also been published in one recent book: Privacy-Preserving Machine Learning.

“I am glad that I have participated in this research project, where I have conducted the cutting-edge research topics related to decentralized data pre-processing, robust deep learning, big data techniques, and multimodal feature fusion techniques. The project experience not only inspired me to develop my own research ideas towards accomplishing my PhD dissertation, but also provided me with the hands-on industry career preparation.”

Xiaowei (Tom) Shi

Research: On-Board Smart Vision System to Support Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) Communication

Faculty Advisor: Professor Xiaopeng Li

Industry Partner: Connected Wise

Xiaowei (Tom) Shi is a PhD candidate whose research aims to establish a set of methodologies to understand, predict and eventually improve future transportation systems via sensors, controllers, and design variables rendered by emerging technologies, such as connected, automated, modular, and electric vehicles. He is responsible for the development and deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles owned by the connected and autonomous systems lab of USF, including vehicle retrofit, control, planning, and sensor fusion. Connected Wise is an automated vehicle technology company based in Orlando, whose technologies are being incorporated into Dr. Li’s projects.

“Dr. Li provided tremendous help to me on the project that we collaborated with Connected Wise. From this project, I learned the best way to transfer a technical concept to a real-world application. Once I graduate from USF, I hope to keep working in academia, focusing on emerging technologies, and closely collaborate with industrial partners.”

Kimberly Witke

Research: Formation Control for Autonomous Vehicles Using Visual Odometry Techniques

Faculty Advisor: Professor Sriram Chellappan

Industry Partner: SOFWERX

Kimberly Witke is completing her PhD in mechanical engineering, and currently holds both a bachelor’s and masters of science in mechanical engineering and a bachelor of arts in in anthropology. Her work focuses on developing experimentally proven theoretical models in multiagent controls systems. Upon joining the LACIS group, she worked in visual odometry with Dr. Chellappan & SOFWERX in January 2020 developing a computer-vision driven control system for an unmanned ground vehicle with the ability to identify targets and track their movements over rough terrain while maintaining uninterrupted spatial awareness.

Located in Ybor City, SOFWERX is described as “a factory of ideas and innovation” that is a public-private innovation partnership that works on the United States Special Operations Command’s most challenging problems.

“This project has been an excellent way to learn more about computer vision technologies and how they can support robotic agents in their decision-making as they navigate a novel environment. This project has a wide variety of potential applications, which I look forward to exploring further over the next few years.”

Neha Arora

Research: Automated Modular Algae Cultivation System for Aquaculture

Faculty Advisor: Professor George Philippidis

Industry Partner: Culture Biosystems

Dr. Neha Arora is a postdoc researcher in the Patel College of Global Sustainability. She works on a project to convert microalgae as a promising renewable source for the 5Fs of the sustainable development goals: food, fiber, fuel, feed, and fertilizer. With financial support from the Florida High Tech Corridor, this joint project between Professor George Philippidis and Culture Biosystems – a technology provider of cultivation platforms for growing low cost algae for fuels, feeds and chemicals with operations in Lakeland and Coral Gables – developed an automated modular cultivation system that can cost-effectively produce live algae to feed aquaculture operations. It is well established that live algae, instead of frozen algae paste, improve larvae survival and fish productivity in aquaculture operations. By developing sensors for algae and nutrient field measurements, operators are able to obtain real-time data information to allow automated monitoring and control of the cultivation system, hence reducing operating costs and making this Florida technology cost effective for subsequent commercialization.

“Working on this FHTC-supported project in Dr. Philippidis’ group has provided me with a great opportunity to expand my intellectual horizons on large scale algae cultivation for aquaculture, biofuels, and biomaterials. The project is highly interdisciplinary as it combines biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering with an aim to take algae-based sustainability solutions to the commercial level by reducing the cost of cultivation via automation that minimizes labor. This way, live algae can become cost-competitive for the aquaculture industry and boost productivity and profitability. Being a part of this effort has been instrumental for fostering new scientific relationships with the algae scientific community especially in the private sector, in addition to interacting with USF colleagues from diverse fields. The experience I have gained working on this project in Dr. Philippidis’ Biofuels & Bioproducts Lab to prepare for a future career in either academia or industry to serve the bioeconomy of the future.”

Priyanka Bhatt

Research: Formulation Development and Characterization of Ayurvedic Herb Based Neutraceuticals

Faculty Advisor: Professor Vijaykumar Sutariya

Industry Partner: Param Bhakti Healthcare and Research Services

Dr. Priyanka Bhatt is currently pursuing my postdoc in Dr. Vijaykumar Sutariya’s lab in the Taneja College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is working in the field of ocular drug delivery on novel nanocarrier strategies to combat for age-related macular degeneration. Param Bhakti Healthcare & Research Services, LLC, is an early-stage company focusing on the development of nutraceuticals with locations at the USF Research Park in Tampa and New Jersey.

“I am extremely thankful to Corridor’s Matching Grant Research Program for the research support and for the great experience that I had. It gave me an opportunity to learn and contribute towards developing efficient ocular therapy. The most rewarding part of my research is the advancement and promise which upcoming ocular formulations will bring for patients suffering from aging ocular illnesses.”

To LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FLORIDA HIGH TECH CORRIDOR, visit https://floridahightech.com/.

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