U engineer striving for true ‘innovation’
Manoranjan “Mano” Misra is one of the most recent U professors hired with support from USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, a program that brings top talent to the area to spark economic development. The metallurgical and chemical engineer came from the University of Nevada, Reno, and boasts a lifetime of accomplishments – more than 250 publications, two books, 12 patents over the course of 30 years – but he came to the U to pursue what he calls true “innovation.”
“Innovation isn’t something that comes from publishing papers,” Misra says. It’s what comes when scientific discoveries are commercialized as products that can have a real impact on peoples’ lives. And Misra is well on his way to achieving this goal.
Misra’s research has focused on the field of energy and materials development, spanning areas including photoelectrochemical hydrogen generation, hydrogen storage, materials for high temperature nuclear reactor, nanotube and nanowire sensors for point-of-care, homeland security and environment.
His current commercial pursuits are focused on four areas – nanotube sensors, advanced metals manufacturing, clean energy and biodiesel production. Misra hopes that, within five years, some of these commercial pursuits will start generating tested, proven and fully-developed products that can be sold.
What most of Misra’s current projects have in common is a connection to titanium dioxide nanotubes, which are microscopic, cylindrical molecules with enormous surface area for their size. A square centimeter can hold roughly a billion nanotubes and has a surface area comparable to a football field. Misra is an expert at producing these types of nanotubes, and most of his current projects focus on ways they can be used.
Misra is developing different type of sensors using the nanotubes. One sensor can detect tuberculosis – a disease that afflicts an estimated 10 million people each year – instantly and for a faction of the cost of current methods. Another sensor can detect radiation and could be used in airports to sense explosives. Misra has a related startup company, NanoSynth.
Meanwhile, Misra has many more diverse projects. He has a 4,000 square foot lab where he is developing new methods of producing materials and metals coating with funding from the National Science Foundation. He is building a clean energy lab and showroom at the U to teach and demonstrate energy production, transfer and distribution from varied sources including photovoltaics, biofuels, fuel cell and solar. He has a dream to convert coffee grounds to biodiesel and use it to power some of the maintenance vehicles on campus.
And that’s not even all of Misra’s projects. He has so many promising pursuits, in so many diverse areas, he is bound to achieve success – and what he considers true innovation.