Rebecca Klaper uses tiny creatures to study the safety of some of the world's tiniest particles.
Translucent crustaceans called Daphnia - about four of them would fit on the top of a pencil - are helping Klaper develop a tool to assess the safety of nanomaterials being put into many products, from sunscreen to computer screens to baseball bats.
Her efforts received a boost from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Catalyst grant program, which, for the second consecutive year, is awarding $500,000 to research projects that have scientific promise and strong commercial potential.
The grants are funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the state's largest foundation.
"The grants are feeding promising projects, but also helping us create a culture of innovation," said Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation.
The UWM grants won't fund the entire development of a concept, said Frank Langley, president and CEO of MPP Group LLC, a Wauwatosa pharmaceutical development company. Last year, MPP Group licensed a group of compounds from UWM that appear to interact with certain neurotransmitters in the brain to block the euphoric effects of alcohol without inducing anxiety or sedation.
"That's why you're seeing Bradley Foundation and Rockwell behind these grants - they're entities that believe in commercialization," Langley said.
Rockwell Automation Inc. has committed $850,000 over five years to fund similar grants, and the UWM Research Foundation has been awarded $340,000 of that money, Thompson said.
The Bradley Foundation funding this year comes on top of $500,000 it provided for the grants last year. Those laid the groundwork for the licensing agreement with MPP and enabled 33 new invention disclosures, three new patent applications, and applications for federal grants and other funding worth $2 million, Thompson said.