Speed Researchers Win Kudos at UofL Entrepreneurship and Innovation Awards

May 10, 2023

By Holly Hinson

From left: Drs. Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh, Kunal Kate and Dan Popa

More than 30 Speed School of Engineering researchers were among the 70 plus innovators recognized at the  Office of Research and Innovation‘s 2023 UofL Entrepreneurship and Innovation Awards on April 18.

President Kim Schatzel and Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation Kevin Gardner hosted and welcomed guests to the event. These awards recognized UofL faculty and staff who conducted translational and commercialized research by way of intellectual property and technology development, industry sponsored research and entrepreneurship over the past fiscal year.

Three Speed School of Engineering researchers were selected for major awards at the event: Dr. Dan Popa, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Director of Louisville Automation Robotics Research Institute (LARRI), received the Catalyst Award. Dr. Kunal Kate, Mechanical Engineering, and Dr. Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh, Chemical Engineering, both received Trailblazer Awards.

“Trailblazer awards are given to innovators who have done something particularly pioneering over the past fiscal year,” Gardner said. “Examples include ‘first-of-its-kind’ technologies, innovation in unexpected places and venturing into territory no innovator has explored before through invention and entrepreneurship.”

headshot of Kunal Kate

Dr. Kunal Kate

Dr. Kunal Kate’s research is centered on advancing manufacturing technology such as 3D printing and powder injection molding (PIM) by conducting research on high-performance materials such as ceramics, metals and polymer composites to design and develop products for electronic, defense, medical, aerospace and transportation sectors. His work is helping to advance cutting edge wearable sensors in soft robotics and soy-based 3D printing filaments made from agricultural process residue. At the University of Louisville, Kate is also working to assist NASA’s Fablab on manufacturing parts for spot repairs in outer space via 3D metal printing

As part of the Kentucky Minority Business Development Association’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, Kate has helped build capacity and provide assistance for minority owned companies and guided STEM entrepreneurs and companies in manufacturing, logistics and healthcare industries to prepare for and leverage SMART Industry 4.0 technology.

Dr. Kate thanked and recognized his research team and noted, “These are exciting times to be at UofL.

headshot of Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh

Dr. Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh

Dr. Noppadon Sathitsuksanoh, also a Trailblazer Award recipient, is an innovator working for new ways to produce sustainable fuels from chemicals and waste materials. Dr. Tik, as he is known, has 10 pending or currently awarded patents improving safety and stability of electrolyte batteries, was awarded $1 million for a Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project, and was the 2022 recipient of a prestigious CAREER award from National Science Foundation. This CAREER project seeks to improve understanding of a new plasma-based upcycling process for transforming discarded plastic into valuable products, helping to mitigate the ever-increasing plastic pollution that negatively impacts the environment and health of the world’s population.

Frequent collaborator and colleague Dr. Zhihui Sun, chairperson of Civil & Environmental Engineering, nominated Tik for the award, and said Tik “is a creative researcher with a lot of novel ideas. Recognizing young talented faculty like Dr. Tik with such an award will benefit UofL with faculty retention.”

Tik said he is able to say to his students that they are transforming things from textbook to real world applications. “A few years from now, they may use a cellphone or laptop with my battery in it,” he said. “This award means a lot to me because it shows that we do not just publish papers about our ideas,” said Tik. “We transform our ideas into commercial applications that impact our society.”

Dr. Dan Popa

Dr. Dan Popa is the recipient of the Catalyst Award. “The Catalyst Award recognizes someone who’s not only innovating, but building an environment where others can as well – this person is the spark, the ignition point,” Gardner said. “In other words – a catalyst for innovation.”

LARRI Director Dr. Dan Popa has taken a multidisciplinary approach that allows institutes, faculty, staff and students to tackle large research projects and provide solutions for current and future manufacturing health care and logistics challenges. Also an accomplished inventor, Popa holds numerous patents including the UofL- patented adaptive nursing robot assistant which uses AI technology to provide patient monitoring, allowing nurses to focus on patient care.

Popa wanted to thank the EVPRI office and the faculty and staff of LARRI, as well as Speed School Dean Emmanuel Collins. “When I came to the state of Kentucky seven years ago, I was told robotics were nowhere to be found in the state, and now it’s in the mainstream,” he said. “It was through the Dean’s efforts and pushing the idea of a robotics institute that now we have the first one in the state.”