Chandra Yelleswarapu, professor of physics at UMass Boston, will be working with East West Enterprises to develop a specialized microscope that could be used on the International Space Station. East West Enterprises was recently awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from NASA.
Phase contrast microscopes take advantage of a particular property of light, its “phase,” which shifts when the light passes through transparent or semi-transparent material. Scientists need phase contrast microscopes to observe living cells in their natural environment, but the traditional models are expensive and bulky. To make this type of microscope more affordable, Yelleswarapu has worked to develop an inexpensive, rugged, modular unit that can turn a less expensive model into a phase microscope. This technology would be useful for astronauts working in cramped quarters, and for universities and businesses seeking to purchase state-of-the-art instruments for their research labs. In the next phase of the project, Yelleswarapu plans to build a commercial prototype using this technology.
East West Enterprises is based in Huntsville, Alabama, but recently opened an office at the Venture Development Center. Yelleswarapu and East West Enterprises worked together to write the grant, which will provide almost $200,000 in funding for research and development. Three other companies at the Venture Development Center received SBIR grants this summer:
- enEvolv: Rapid engineering of microorganisms at a substantially reduced cost for the production of specialty chemicals.
- Synaptic Global Learning: Adaptive mobile learning to increase the percentage of students successfully completing STEM courses.
- Parabase Genomics: Newborn screening for inherited metabolic disorders and rare genetic syndromes.
The VDC offers a grant-writing workshop for SBIR applicants. Yelleswarapu credits the workshop with helping to improve his grant-writing skills, and connecting him with bioscience researchers.