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June 11, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Cohort 4 of “Innovation Crossroads” program begins two-year fellowship

Cohort 4 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program arrived in the region this week to begin their two-year fellowship, and one of the entrepreneurs should be a familiar name to readers.

“I feel really lucky to have been selected for the ‘Innovation Crossroads’ program,” says Erica Grant, Founder of Quantum Lock Technologies LLC. “I’m really proud to be able to represent the Bredesen Center (for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education).”

It was great news for the Richmond, VA native who hopes to graduate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with her doctorate in December. Earlier this year, Grant had been scheduled to participate as a finalist in the “Stu Clark Investment Competition” at the University of Manitoba before it was permanently cancelled in March due to COVID-19 concerns and also the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition,” originally scheduled for late March but now scheduled to be a virtual event next Wednesday through Friday (June 17-19). She did compete at the end of May in the inaugural Heartland Challenge hosted by the University of Arkansas.

Grant and her start-up join four other new ventures that comprise the fourth cohort of the “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) program managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with support from the Tennessee Valley Authority for the second consecutive year. As its name implies, Quantum Lock Technologies is developing the most secure locks for every door, using quantum physics to tap into the randomness of particle behavior to create completely unpredictable and untraceable digital keys for smart locks. The patent-pending technology eliminates the need for master keys.

The other participants announced this week are:

  • Thomas Foulkes and Garrett Meyer, Co-Founders of AquaQuant Laboratories (AQL);
  • Joe Fortenbaugh, Founder of Actinic;
  • Renee Carder, Founder of PixelEXX Systems; and
  • Danielle Castley, Founder of Neutroelectric, LLC.

Ironically, Grant has already been working at ORNL in the quantum computing area, developing a formulation for portfolio optimization. Other than sharing the word “quantum,” she says the focus is very different from the focus of her start-up.

For Grant, selection for the two-year IC fellowship will help her greatly expand the market opportunities for Quantum Lock Technologies beyond the early ones that were hotel rooms, apartments, and houses..

“I started thinking about future markets and saw a $70 million Department of Energy (DOE) FOA (funding opportunity announcement) on smart factories. I thought Quantum Lock could really fit into this market.”

Noting that 50 percent of the nation’s factories get hacked annually, Grant said, “That’s a huge security risk for supply chains.” It’s also something that is of concern to the DOE Advanced Manufacturing Office which funds the IC program.

She also expects to work closely with both DOE and ORNL cybersecurity experts to “rigorously test the cybersecurity side of her technology.”

The following descriptions appeared in ORNL’s news release announcing the members of Cohort 4.

  • Mie photo sensors and arrays. Carder’s photo sensor technology uses resonances called Mie that improve photo sensor performance by increasing light sensitivity by concentrating the amount of light available to the photo sensor based on the sensor’s optical, rather than its physical cross-section. As a result, optical absorption can be dramatically enhanced. The resonance mechanism also eliminates the need for filters and gratings. By providing more pixels per spot of light, information can be combined to sharpen contrast and reduce noise for unprecedented high-resolution images in a small package. Carder holds a doctorate in neurology, anatomy and cell science from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Lightweight, high-temperature neutron shielding material. Castley is developing a high-temperature, lightweight neutron-shielding technology that will help reduce costs and increase safety in the nuclear industry. This technology operates at a temperature that is 50% higher than existing polymer-based neutron-shielding products. The higher operating temperature introduces significant opportunities for deploying neutron shielding materials in higher-temperature locations within the reactor containment and/or to improve the safety margin in applications originally designed for shielding with a lower operating temperature. Castley holds a doctorate in materials engineering at Dartmouth College.
  • On-demand tunable curing of thermoset composites for additive manufacturing. Fortenbaugh is designing, developing, and testing formulations of thermally cured thermosets which can directly and rapidly produce cured composite thermoset materials upon photothermal heating. This type of heating can be used to bring rapid, on-demand curing to a wide range of thermally cured thermoset polymers. The goal is to develop formulations that can be used in additive manufacturing using epoxy resins, polyimide, phenol-formaldehyde, and polyester using composite materials such as carbon fiber, ceramics, graphene, metals, and metal oxides. Fortenbaugh holds a doctorate in chemistry from Penn State University.
  • Nanostructured coatings for direct water immersion cooling of server electronics. Foulkes and Meyer are deploying the next generation of high-performance central processing units and graphics processing units required to feed the power demand for elastic cloud computing, big data analytics, complex simulations, and artificial intelligence. The technology creates a higher computational density by transferring heat with direct, water immersion cooling across nanoengineered, durable, and scalable hierarchical porous coatings deposited holistically on electronics. Foulkes holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Meyer is a graduate in mechanical engineering and computational mathematics from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
  • Security for connected facilities and equipment. Grant is creating secure locks for doors by using quantum physics to tap into the randomness of particle behavior to create completely unpredictable and untraceable digital keys for smart locks. Smart locks use digital keys to access a lock with a smart phone, programmable keycard, or key fob, but they present new ways to break into/hack the lock. This technology eliminates the need for master keys and provides security with user-friendly and efficient software. Grant is a doctoral candidate in quantum computation at the University of Tennessee.

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