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Six USF faculty members recognized with Excellence in Innovation Awards

From predicting suicidality to disinfecting masks, these faculty members are some of USF’s top innovators.

Six USF researchers with innovations ranging from artificial intelligence that can detect and predict suicidality, to encrypting and protecting sensitive information from cloud servers, to disinfecting and recharging masks for safe multiple use, are recipients of this year’s USF Excellence in Innovation Award.

Three of the faculty members are from the USF College of Engineering, one is from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and two have joint appointments with both colleges. USF, one of the nation’s most innovative public research universities, ranks eighth among American public research universities and 15th among all universities worldwide in generating new U.S. utility patents.

The Excellence in Innovation Award recognizes faculty for their accomplishments in moving inventions to market through creating new startups and commercializing their technologies and by advancing research and development through publishing in peer-reviewed journals and securing grants to support their projects.

“This award celebrates innovation and entrepreneurial success by our investigators and scholars — recognizing their contributions to the knowledge base,” USF President Rhea Law said. “These six outstanding faculty members embody high-quality research, invention, and entrepreneurship, inspiring our students and our community. Their work illustrates the level of engagement USF has in research and invention, creating whole new realities that make the world a better place.”

This year’s awards cover achievements in innovation from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Nominations were reviewed by members of the USF chapter of the National Academy of Inventors.

The winners are:

Brian Bunnell

Brian Bunnell

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine

In addition to demonstrating outstanding productivity, as evidenced by his 12 publications in health technology, Dr. Bunnell had many exceptional achievements during fiscal year 2021. He and his colleagues received a $551,840 National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) R56 grant to use artificial intelligence to detect and predict suicidality from electronic health record clinical note text. With a $621,296 NIMH grant, he developed, a web-based platform to help mental health therapists engage youth patients in therapeutic skill development. He subsequently received an $837,485 NIMH Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to expand the platform for use with adult patients. Dr. Bunnell formed a strategic partnership between his company, LLC and Inc., a telemedicine platform with 1,000,000 provider users, to integrate into its user-interface, which is being funded by a $136,289 award from the Florida High Tech Corridor. LLC holds an exclusive option agreement with USF and is currently negotiating a license agreement with USF Research Foundation.

Jing Wang

Jing Wang

Professor, Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering

Jing Wang holds 11 U.S. patents and several provisional patents, including one jointly filed with II-VI, a publicly traded global manufacturing company, and has multiple projects being funded by about a dozen technology corporations and organizations. In fiscal year 2021, three doctoral students and one master’s student involved in industry-funded research projects graduated under his supervision. During this time, three invention disclosures were filed by student-inventors. He was also elected a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors and Agere Systems Endowed Chair, a tribute to his translational research and innovation.

Attila Yavuz

Attila A. Yavuz

Associate Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, College of Engineering

Attila Yavuz's research focuses on efficient end-to-end protection of encrypted systems to enable trustworthy machine learning for users without revealing sensitive contents to cloud servers. Prior work has been expensive for embedded devices and relied on strong trust assumptions for data collection and analysis. Yavuz's research presents a series of new techniques that offer lightweight post-quantum signatures, consensus and metadata-hiding file-sharing properties. This research has resulted in several papers and a patent filing.

Ying (Sarah) Zhong

Ying (Sarah) Zhong

Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

Sarah Zhong responded quickly to combat COVID-19 by enabling safe reuse of masks through corona discharge, which can simultaneously disinfect and recharge masks. This NSF-funded and patent pending technique addresses mask shortages and environmental burdens caused by the pandemic. It has drawn significant attention from the media and society. She also invented another patent-pending technology to realize ultra-fast binder-free printing through electrostatic printing. Zhong’s entrepreneurial accomplishments include a registered startup company and participation in I-Corps training.  She published four papers in top academic journals, which included being featured on the supplemental cover of Environmental Science & Technology and ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. In addition to receiving an NSF RAPID award, she received a $25,000 USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant and a $20,000 USF Interdisciplinary Research Grant.


Professor Richard Heller and Associate Professor Mark Jaroszeski
Medical Engineering, College of Engineering and USF Health Morsani College of Medicine
Professor Richard Heller and Associate Professor Mark Jaroszeski

Richard Heller (photo on left) and Mark Jaroszeski (photo on right) have advisory and ownership interests in MMD Technologies, enabling them to commercialize intellectual property related to drug/gene delivery for the veterinary and human clinical markets. During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, they received four U.S. patents for new intellectual property and submitted applications for four utility patents and one provisional patent. Their entrepreneurial achievements resulted in forging a licensing agreement with MMD Technologies. Heller and Jaroszeski have successfully competed for a $25,000 Bull Ring Accelerator Award to foster commercialization and were awarded a nearly $60,000 National Institutes of Health Diversity Supplement to fund a graduate student for instrumentation development related to this technology. They also commercialized a USF-discovered product, partnering with medical device manufacturer PRESCO to design and build a commercial-grade device that is ready for the veterinary market.

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Learn more about USF research by viewing articles from past years (2010-2019).

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