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Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through Business Act

Smart Business Act

(SMART Business Act)

2024 Grants

Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning awarded more than $1.1 million in research grants to fund 17 projects at four universities and the University of Mississippi Medical Center to help them prove marketable business concepts, from medical innovations to using artificial intelligence to assist soldiers.

The grants are part of the Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through Business, or SMART, Act, which was passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 2013 and amended in 2021. The funds are allocated through the Department of Revenue from tax collections.

“There is phenomenal work being done on our campuses to improve all aspects of industry, from medical applications to meeting the needs of the aerospace sector,” said Dr. Al Rankins Jr., commissioner of higher education. “Researchers are discovering new technologies that could be commercialized and grow into impactful companies that one day employ Mississippians in some exciting fields.”

IHL approved the grants with input from the Mississippi Research Consortium, comprised of the state’s four research universities (Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi).

Awards granted this spring include:

Jackson State University
  • $150,000 for Associate Professor Yongfeng Zhao to develop, test and evaluate a method for magnetic particle imaging that could be a safe, effective alternative to existing medical imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The project could have applications in medical imaging and drug delivery.
University of Mississippi
  • $149,996 for Assistant Professor Thomas Werfel and Professor Glenn Walker to perform therapeutic testing of a biodegradable microdosing implant for treatmentresistant depression.
University of Mississippi Medical Center
  • $149,940 for Associate Professor Randall “Scott” Williamson to develop and test a sulfonation treatment of medical and dental implants that could improve device performance and healing in the body.
  • $120,781 for Professor James Rowlett to determine the optimal formulation of a novel pharmaceutical ingredient that could be a potential treatment for addiction and physical dependence on Valium-like drugs.
Mississippi State University
  • $73,430 for Professor Filip To to create a foot bath system for wound care for diabetic patients.
  • $59,074 for Assistant Professor Amirtaha Taebi to develop and test the feasibility of using artificial intelligence and smartphones as cardiovascular imaging scanners, which could reduce diagnosis timelines and healthcare costs.
  • $73,715 for Professor Shahram Rahimi to design and develop patient-centric technology that utilizes artificial intelligence to give patients and providers an understandable representation of medical information. The technology could improve clinical recommendations.
  • $33,028 for Research Engineers David Saucier and Chris White, Assistant Professor Shreyas Narsipur, and Associate Director Caden Teer to develop and test a drone-based markerless motion capture system that utilizes artificial intelligence to track individuals’ biomechanical performance through athletics, the military, or other high-intensity physical activities. The project is a partnership between MSU’s Athlete Engineering Lab and the Raspet Flight Research Lab.
  • $38,795 for Assistant Professor Wenbo Liu to develop and test automated preparation technology for the individually quick-frozen process of catfish fillets.
  • $15,435 for Innovation Commercialization Fellow Nate Venarske to develop an automatic mosquito ovitrap, which is a solar-powered 3D-printed trap that dispenses insecticide at regular intervals and can reduce the cost of mosquito control.
University of Southern Mississippi
  • $50,000 for Associate Professor Xiaodan Gu to further develop technology that allows for precise measurements of thin films, offering better resolution and ease of use. Material science technology can be used in the areas of electronics, energy, optics, and biomedicine.
  • $30,000 for Associate Professor Hao Xu to develop new strategies for drug delivery in the body that could reduce inflammation in chronic illnesses.
  • $37,800 for Assistant Professor Tristan Clemons to develop and test special polymers to help skin cells and other tissues regenerate and heal wounds, including severe burns.
  • $30,000 for Professors Fengwei Bai and Faqing Huang to develop and test an mRNA vaccine for Zika virus diseases and potentially other illnesses and cancers.
  • $27,200 for Associate Professor Nina McLain to develop a prototype of a portable trauma belt that can apply pressure to control hemorrhages. The device has potential impacts on healthcare and military use.
  • $50,000 for Assistant Professor Zhe Qiang to research and develop technology through 3D printed carbons for sustainable chemical production. The technology can be used in industrial production, including the automotive and aerospace sectors.
  • $75,000 for Assistant Professor Olivia McNair to further develop an aerospace polymer reactor and test high-temperature polymers that can be utilized by several sectors, including the military and aerospace.

Several of these SMART business projects, along with other campus research initiatives, can be viewed at the Mississippi Research Consortium’s page on Inpart, a website that connects researchers with potential partners or investors.