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Three Biotech Students Win NASA Space Race Startup Challenge


Students meet at JHU library
Three students in the biotechnology master’s program have won a competition in which they took NASA technology and developed a new use for it.

Students Christopher Whitman, Yoke Yin Putt and Mustafa Sharif won a SPACE RACE startup challenge. SPACE RACE, a partnership between NASA and the Center for Advancing Innovation, is a competition that encourages startup companies to take federally funded technologies and develop new uses.

As winners of the challenge, the Johns Hopkins University students received a total prize of $2,500 and will receive ongoing guidance from the Center for Advancing Innovation and NASA to develop their ideas.

The JHU students, who are part of a company called Genetoo, won in the biomaterials contamination mitigation category.

Whitman, Putt and Sharif selected for their project a NASA patent that describes a way laser technology can be used to modify surfaces topologically. According to NASA, the methods were developed to aid in exploration of surfaces including the moon, Mars and asteroids. During missions, lunar dust particles caused myriad problems. NASA, therefore, developed new ways to lessen contamination from dust and other particles.

The JHU students took the idea in a new direction by combining the laser technology with chemical coatings to design superhydrophobic surfaces with enhanced anti-bacterial properties. Whitman said the technology can be used in medical applications, such as prosthetic implants and endoscopic devices. Bacteria can grow if in contact with water; this technology would keep water away and kill harmful bacteria. Superhydrophobic surfaces engineered with specific patterns through laser and chemical coatings can inhibit bacteria growth, Whitman said.

“Superhydrophobic surfaces are today a hot topic in the scientific community,” Whitman said.

Whitman, Putt and Sharif all take courses at the JHU Montgomery County Campus toward their master’s degrees in biotechnology.

“Every course played some role,” Whitman said.

Their classes, Whitman said, not only offered a foundation in the science of biotechnology but in the business side as well. They gained insights about technology transfer, how to propose efficient regulatory strategy within a business plan, how to develop financial assessments, how to manage innovation, and honed the skills needed to nurture networking opportunities.

Whitman said Genetoo is in the process of incorporating and acquiring a license for the technology. Once the team has a license, the students can work on expanding the technology to health care markets.

CATEGORY: Academics