Perena Gouma, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development at Stony Brook University, invented a photocatalytic nanogrid™ that can break down oil from a spill when activated by sunlight. She received National Science Foundation (NSF) grant funding to support this water remediation technology when she was chosen for the inaugural class of the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) awards, a program designed to guide promising university research with commercial potential into the marketplace.
A few months ago, while presenting the NSF’s fiscal year 2016 budget requests to Congress’ Science, Space and Technology Committee, NSF Director France Córdova used Gouma’s research breakthrough as an example of a game-changing discovery funded by the NSF. In her Congressional testimony, Córdova stated: “Dr. Perena Gouma’s materials science research at SUNY Stony Brook has created a novel nanogrid that when activated by sunlight can break down oil from a spill. She was the first scientist to receive an I-Corps grant and has started a company based on patents from this original research.”
Córdova stressed that innovative and interdisciplinary research such as Gouma’s needs continued NSF investment to support further discovery research and education in science and engineering. In addition to the NSF, the Science, Space and Technology Committee has jurisdiction over programs at NASA, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“I am honored and privileged to have been chosen as one of the three out of all the NSF grantees to have her work highlighted during the Congressional testimony,” said Professor Gouma.
NSF recently highlighted another important research project pioneered by Gouma that is also based on advanced materials nanotechnology, the Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer, which can screen everything from diabetes to lung cancer.
More About Professor Gouma’s Nanogrid Research
Gouma’s project, the utilization of nanogrids or Photocatalysts for Water Remediation (PWR), is a unique self-supporting nanocatalyst technology that utilizes solar energy to break down harmful pollutants such as hydrocarbons. PWR (or Nanogrids™) are miniaturized self-supported mats that float on water and rapidly decompose petroleum oil hydrocarbons and other organic pollutants using solar irradiation from the full solar spectrum. The result is that pollutants are turned into water, carbon dioxide and other biodegradable organics for fast and efficient oil decomposition and environmental remediation.
Gouma initially received funding in 2010 from the NSF’s the Ceramics program to produce the nanogrids. After the results showed great promise for commercialization, she formed a team that won the first I-Corps award. Gouma was the Principal Investigator on the project; her I-Corps team also included Jusang Lee, a former student of hers who served as the entrepreneurial lead, and Clive Clayton, the commercialization mentor for the project. Clayton acted in his capacity as director of the Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence.
The startup that resulted from the I-Corps project received further NSF support through its Small Business Innovation Research program. It is currently being supported by the iCLEAN incubator in Albany, New York, and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program at the High Tech Rochester incubator.
“There are numerous applications for our nanogrids in water remediation and energy applications” said Professor Gouma. “They can clean oil spills effectively, whether near the shore or in the middle of the ocean, in a lake, river, a refinery or a water-cleaning facility.” Gouma added that successful commercialization of this technology will be beneficial to the State of New York; the impact could result in the creation of new jobs, nanotechnology training and manufacturing for real and versatile products and a cleaner environment.
— Lynne Roth