Discovery What great minds on campus have been up to lately.

Bad Day of Skiing Leads to Fresh Idea for Skiers

For University of Utah undergraduate student Alex Carr, a bad day of skiing led to an innovative idea: Chār Poles, a sort of ski pole equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.

Carr says he got the idea for the poles one day after he hiked up a mountain in the Utah backcountry in order to ski down, only to realize his ski bindings weren’t adjusted properly. “After failed attempts using rocks and twigs as screwdrivers, I decided to make it my mission to create ski poles with screwdrivers.” He brainstormed during the long trek back down the hill, eventually coming up with the model that has just hit the market.

Photo courtesy U Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute

University of Utah student Alex Carr’s Chār Poles feature multiple tools. (Photo courtesy U Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute)

Chār Poles not only feature screwdrivers built into the handles, they also have bottle openers and camera mounts, and are customizable. These four aspects of the poles garnered them the name char, the Farsi word for four. (Carr, a senior, has been studying Farsi and entrepreneurship at the U, though he took a leave in spring 2013 to focus on his business.)

Skiing Magazine named Chār Poles to its 2013 Top 10 list of innovative and creative products, and the poles also garnered a spot on the 2013 “Wish List” of the SnowSports Industries America trade show.

Carr credits as crucial to his success several programs at the U’s Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, including its Startup Center for Students, Innovation Scholar program, and The Foundry, and he remains active with the entrepreneurship program’s student advisory board. His company, established as an LLC in 2012, when it filed its first patents, was then reorganized as a corporation in 2013. Like most businesses that arise from undergraduate work at the U, it is independently owned by its creator, Carr. Chār Poles are now available through the namesake company’s website.

3-D Visualization Tool Aids Biological Research

FluoRender, a free tool developed at the University of Utah for studying three-dimensional images of biological samples, is now seeing diverse applications in biological research and has been used to create stunning images that have garnered awards in international biology image competitions. Version 2.13 was just released in mid-2013, and the next release is expected in spring 2014.

In this image of a mouse embryo limb, red highlights the muscles, green the tendons, and blue the nerves. (Image by A. Kelsey Lewis, Gabrielle Kardon, Yong Wan, and Ronen Schweitzer)

FluoRender is an interactive, flexible software tool for confocal microscopy visualization. Confocal microscopy has become an important imaging tool in biology research in recent years. The technique—which uses fluorescent stains to delineate separate parts of a biological sample—creates a 3-D visualization of the sample. Before FluoRender, most of the visualization tools that were available created images that, though complex, were static and unable to be manipulated. FluoRender images are interactive. For example, users can “paint” directly on the visuals and select particular structures for closer analysis and manipulation.

The late University of Utah biologist Chi-Bin Chien (who died of cancer in 2011) and his postdoctoral fellow Hideo Otsuna, now a research associate in the U’s Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, partnered with Charles Hansen, associate director of the U’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, and his graduate student Yong Wan (now PhD’13 and a postdoc with Hansen’s group) to design and develop the software tool starting in 2008, with the earliest version coming out in 2009. The project received National Institutes of Health awards in 2010 and 2011, ultimately resulting in the latest FluoRender software package.

PowerPot Creates Portable Outdoor Power Source

Even when camping, people often want to have battery power in their smart devices for evening reading, listening to music, and ready connectivity when they need to get back in touch with civilization. The PowerPot, created by University of Utah alumni Paul Slusser BMA’09 MS’09 and David Toledo BMA’10, provides a solution.

The small cook pot contains a thermoelectric generator that charges USB devices by using the heat of water in the pot as it is warmed. The basic model, the PowerPot V, weighs less than a pound and produces five volts, enough to charge a cell phone in 60 to 90 minutes. Larger models, such as the PowerPot X, produce 10 volts and can charge larger devices, such as a tablet computer.

Photo courtesy U Technology Venture Development

The PowerPot uses heat from water in the pot to generate electricity to charge USB devices. (Photo courtesy U Technology Venture Development)

Toledo and Slusser came up with the idea while studying thermoelectricity at the U in 2008. They bought a thermoelectric cooling device on eBay, began manipulating it, and eventually built the first PowerPot prototype using an old pot from Toledo’s mom. Then the project hit some roadblocks, and Toledo and Slusser both graduated and moved on, Toledo to working on a doctorate at Cornell University, Slusser to a job in Silicon Valley. Then, while surfing the Internet, Toledo made a breakthrough, finding a key missing piece to their engineering puzzle: a cheap power regulator designed for hobbyists. Toledo took a leave of absence from Cornell, and he and Slusser moved back to Salt Lake to resume work on the project. They used the crowdfunding tool Kickstarter to get startup money and officially founded their new company Power Practical in 2011.

Though Power Practical is an independent company owned by Toledo and Slusser, the team received essential support from the University of Utah’s Foundry program (a student startup incubator that is part of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center of the U’s David Eccles School of Business) in the early stages of business development. The team also received seed funding from the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, a student business plan competition offered by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center. PowerPots are now available through the company website, as well as retailers such as Sportsman’s Warehouse.



> Read the complete 2013 Innovate Report online here.

One thought on “Discovery

  • It would be very interesting to be able to click on the $361 million, 167 U faculty, or 88 U.S. patents and see more detail.

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