Six entrepreneurs selected to develop innovative technologies at Argonne

Scientists from across the nation join second cohort of Chain Reaction Innovations program

Earlier this month, six scientists from across the country began a two-year program at Argonne National Laboratory dedicated to build their energy and science technologies into products. They are the second annual cohort for the Chain Reaction Innovations program, which provides an institutional home for the postdoctoral researchers to develop their innovative technologies.

Eighty-three innovators from 26 states applied to earn a spot at Argonne, a Department of Energy national laboratory managed by UChicago. The program provides the innovators an opportunity different from traditional entrepreneurial programs through access to the lab’s scientific expertise, world-class facilities and multi-institutional support.

Such support includes working with the Purdue Foundry at the University of Purdue and the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which help innovators to understand how to bridge the gap between benchtop ideas and the marketplace. The Polsky Center offers participants guidance on how to develop business strategies and attract investors and commercial partners.

“Argonne National Laboratory, as one of the nation’s leading energy science laboratories, and the University of Chicago, which operates Argonne on behalf of the Department of Energy and is home to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, are particularly well-positioned to spur energy technology innovation,” said Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and the national laboratories at the University of Chicago. “The new cohort in Chain Reaction Innovations can draw from the expertise of these two institutions, and the city of Chicago’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for startups with a growing investor network and several of the nation’s top engineering schools.”

This cohort’s technologies focus on enhancing energy efficiency or sustainability and overcoming complex scientific challenges to improve quality of life.

Meet a few of our CRI entrepreneurs below or view them all on the CRI website.

Erika Boeing

Erika Boeing is passionate about helping the world become powered by renewable energy. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Accelerate Wind, a company that is working to revolutionize distributed wind energy by drastically lower the cost of small wind turbine technology.

While many buildings use solar panels as an alternative source of energy, few use wind turbines because they are far too expensive. Her company is looking to change this.

“Accelerate Wind uses a systems approach to overall wind turbine design,” she said. “This includes using a flywheel to reduce the required size of the generator and inverter, which reduces their cost. We also have design features which capture and translate high velocity wind currents into energy in a manner that makes the whole system more cost-effective.”

While in the Netherlands on a Fulbright Scholarship, she studied the interactions between how technology affects society and how society determines which technologies are adopted. “This bigger-picture understanding helps me to work on problems while taking into account a wide number of relevant perspectives, which is important for creating a successful business,” she said.

Chad Husko

Chicago native Chad Husko is working on creating a new class of lasers that can be miniaturized and put into photonic integrated circuits to improve performance and reliability.

“As an analogy, our mastery of shrinking electronics allowed us to take those giant 1970s supercomputers and put that into the form factor of a smart phone using integrated electronic circuits,” he said. “Right now, we’re going through a similar revolution of ‘photonics,’ or light-based technologies, and learning how combine the forces of light and electricity.”

Such integrated photonics are already being used in the cloud and in self-driving cars, but “this is just the beginning,” he said. “Plenty of unexpected applications await.”

His team is using Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials to develop the laser devices and its Materials Engineering Research Facility to scale the raw materials required to build the lasers from lab scale to industrial scale.

Veronika Stelmakh

For the next two years, Veronika Stelmakh will work with researchers and engineers at Argonne to further development of a power generator that could help save lives and enable exploration in remote areas.

Stelmakh is co-founder and CEO of Mesodyne, Inc. a company that is developing a thermophotovoltaic portable power generator that would weigh about 75 percent less than the batteries that would normally be required to provide the same amount of energy. This portable power generator would enable new capabilities in technological and human mobility and could be used by dismounted soldiers on the field, mountaineers scaling miles-high summits, emergency responders or even remote sensors that demand round-the-clock power.

Stelmakh, currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, will be working with Argonne energy systems section manager Doug Longman, whose expertise in engine combustion research is vital to Stelmakh’s own project.

“Having someone like Doug help us design our microcombustor will greatly advance our work,” she said. “Argonne, CRI in particular, is a perfect fit for us. There are very few programs where you have access to this level of knowledge, facilities and support.”

Meet the rest of the cohort on the CRI website.