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Students’ QDs win regional Cleantech Challenge

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2012

SALT LAKE CITY – Students at the University of Utah recently won $100,000 and first place in the regional CU Cleantech New Venture Challenge for their quantum dot technology.

Compared with other materials, quantum dots require less energy for emitting light. The color of light emitted depends on the dot’s size. Large quantum dots produce light toward the red side of the spectrum, while smaller dots produce light toward the blue side. These man-made semiconductor nanocrystals hold potential for a growing number of applications, including televisions, solar panels and cell phones.

Although the future of quantum dots looks bright, the manufacturing process remains one of the biggest challenges for advancing them. Conventional processes are expensive, require high temperatures and produce low yields. Currently, a gram of quantum dots costs $2500 to $10,000.


MBA students from the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah pose with the $100,000 check they won at the CU Cleantech New Venture Challenge for a quantum dot manufacturing process that uses lower temperatures and produces less waste than previous methods. From left, Ameya Chaudhari, Chris Lewis and Ryan Tucker. Courtesy of University of Utah.


Now, researchers at the University of Utah may have a solution to such high manufacturing costs. Their company, Navillum Nanotechnologies, is gaining national attention with the help of MBA students Ryan Tucker, Chris Lewis and Ameya Chaudhari, whose process uses lower temperatures and produces less waste than the traditional method. The students focused on applications related to solar technology and energy efficiency to win the regional title. They will use the prize money to refine their manufacturing process and increase its scale.

“The win reflects on the organizations we have at the University of Utah to support entrepreneurship,” Tucker said. “It also helps me get excited that, even as students, we can do great things.”

The students started the project through the Pierre and Claudette Lassonde New Venture Development Center, which is part of the David Eccles School of Business. The Lassonde Center links faculty inventors with graduate students who write business plans for them. The university’s Energy Commercialization Center also helped mentor the team.

Navillum Nanotechnologies competed in the challenge against teams from nine states. Other finalists were from the universities of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, and from Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. The Utah team won for its superior technology and business plan, said Steve Herschleb, an MBA student in Boulder and program manager of the competition.

“It was the attractiveness of the technology and the growth potential,” Herschleb said. “There’s a little bit of risk; the market hasn’t fully embraced the technology. But the applications, from a scientific basis, are very promising, and the market is expected to be enormous in the future.”

Navillum also has received $155,000 in grants from the University of Utah, the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative.

The student team will advance to the national championship, to be held in June in Washington, D.C. The competitions are financed by the US Department of Energy.


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
quantum dots
Also known as QDs. Nanocrystals of semiconductor materials that fluoresce when excited by external light sources, primarily in narrow visible and near-infrared regions; they are commonly used as alternatives to organic dyes.  
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