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Cutting-edge innovations to fight disease, enhance learning win USF’s Excellence in Innovation Awards

Cutting-edge innovations win USF’s Excellence in Innovation Awards

Faculty inventors who created new technologies and applications to address COVID-19, malaria and literacy barriers are lauded in annual awards.

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2021) – USF faculty researchers who invented technology to combat a global shortage of COVID-19 testing swabs, created a surveillance system for mosquito-borne diseases, and turned captivating, augmented reality technology into a tool to help bilingual children have been selected for this year’s Excellence in Innovation Awards.

Recognized this year are USF Morsani College of Medicine Associate Professor Summer Decker and Assistant Professor Jonathan Ford, who lead the development of a 3D-printed testing swab as the global pandemic created vast shortages of supplies; College of Engineering Professor Sriram Chellappan, who has developed a drone and artificial-intelligence enabled mosquito surveillance system; and College of Education Assistant Professor Sara Smith, whose MARVL learning app is captivating young students as they learn vocabulary words in a new language.

“Our University of South Florida faculty continue to exemplify the power of research and innovation to improve lives,” USF President Steve Currall said. “This year’s award winners have helped address some of the most pressing challenges impacting our region, state, nation and world.”

Meet this year’s winners:

  • At the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, global shortages of testing supplies hampered efforts to diagnose and track the spread of the disease. Seeing a desperate need to be met, Associate Professor Summer Decker and Assistant Professor Jonathan Ford of the Department of Radiology’s 3D Anatomical Modeling and Printing Division lead a team that worked around the clock over a period of weeks to create a 3d-printed swab. Working with colleagues who are experts in infectious diseases, the team tested prototypes and performed a head-to-head clinical trial comparing the new 3D-printed swab and the traditional swab which showed the new tool is the equivalent, and in some cases better than, than the swabs that had been in use. Since then, more than 40 million swabs have been created in over 30 different countries and have been credited by health and political leaders for aiding the response.
  • Dr. Sriram Chellappan of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering is the lead inventor on a patent-pending drone and artificial intelligence-enabled system for mosquito surveillance. Working with colleagues at the USF College of Public Health, Chellappan and his research team developed a system that would automatically detect sources of disease-carrying mosquito habitats from drone videos taken in sub-Saharan Africa. The information is fed back in real-time to local public health officials to eradicate the habitats. The system is the foundation for the startup Digitomy, LLC, which is engaging with local mosquito control boards in Florida as well as the authorities in India and Brazil. The project recently received grant support from the National Science Foundation.
  • Assistant Professor Sara Smith of USF’s ESOL and Foreign Language Education programs, invented an application that aims to improve vocabulary instruction for English language and dual-language learners. The novel Multimedia Augmented Reality Vocabulary Learning app, dubbed MARVL, builds on physical vocabulary flashcards with animated, bilingual augmented reality "teachers" who coexist in the child's environment and provide bilingual instruction. She also established a USF start-up company, Marvlous, LLC, which is currently licensing and further developing the technology.

Each year, the Excellence in Innovation Awards recognizes faculty for their efforts in taking inventions to market through the creation of new startups; commercialization to their new technologies; and advancing the research and development process through publishing their work in prestigious journals and securing competitive grants to support their projects. USF is recognized as a global leader in invention and innovation, ranking eighth among U.S. public universities and 16th among universities worldwide in generating new U.S. patents, according to the National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association.

Each awardee receives $2,000; this year’s awards cover a period of July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020.

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