2022 Spark Fund Awardees

BioE Professor Jeff Ruberti, ECE Assistant Professor Aatmesh Shrivastava, ChE Assistant Professor Benjamin Woolston, and MIE Associate Professor Yi Zheng are recipients of Spark Fund Awards, which help Northeastern researchers bridge the gap between promising lab results and demonstrating a commercially viable prototype.


Jeff Ruberti
CRISPR Cas9 Acceleration of Human Active Collagen Production

The Extracellular Matrix Engineering Research Laboratory (EMERL) examines the formation of collagenous matrices based on mechanochemistry. Our fundamental hypothesis is that collagen is an active energetic molecule whose energy state is lowered when subjected to mechanical tensile force and that this behavior or an analog of it is responsible for the construction of animals across the all Phyla. Ultimately, the work done at EMERL is aimed at translation to clinical mechanotherapies.

There are currently few reliable sources of human active collagen. To construct therapeutics that deliver active collagen to injuries, the EMERL lab has been working to enhance the production of this very important molecule using the CRISPR Cas-9 promotional system. Thus the work will be focused on developing and optimizing methods to induce human fibroblasts to produce large amounts of type I collagen. In addition, the packaging of collagen into a metastable liquid crystal for in vivo delivery of active collagen is also part of this effort.

Jeffrey Ruberti, Ph.D. has been focused on collagen mechanochemistry for almost two decades. The results of his investigations have uncovered a substantial opportunity to develop therapies that will alleviate the healing issues associated with connective tissue injuries. Alexandra Silverman, MS. Alex has been working with human cells since she joined Professor Ruberti’s lab as a freshman. She has been focused on cell-mediated assembly of collagen and will be working to translate her work into collagen production for this project. She will be leading the student team on the CRISPR work.


Aatmesh Shrivastava
“Ultra-low Power Wake-up” with Analog Computing for Always on Connectivity

The Shrivastava Lab develops analog computing based ultra-low power connectivity system-on-chip (SoC) technologies. We envision developing the circuit design, radio architecture, and application software for ultra-low power wake-up radio technology.

Maintaining continuous connectivity among IoT devices remains a technological challenge owing to the large power consumption of radios. This research focuses on reducing the power consumption of radios by over 6-orders of magnitude. We aim to develop <20 nano-watts, wake-up radio circuits that can achieve a sensitivity greater than -90 dBm, to realize approximately 100-feet connectivity. The radio architecture is based on the energy detection of the incoming radio signal implemented using high sensitivity passive energy detection circuits to realize ultra-low power operation. We have demonstrated the design feasibility with a proto-type chip that shows connectivity over 10-feet distance.

Aatmesh Shrivastava, PhD will lead the overall project and technical vision. Ankit Mittal, PhD candidate will lead the Wake-up Radio technology development. Nikita Mirchandani, PhD candidate and Ziyue Xu, PhD candidate will lead on developing the supporting analog computing and energy harvesting technologies.


Benjamin Woolston
A Co-Culture Method for Enhanced Biofuel and Biochemical Production from Untreated Waste Gases

The Woolston lab is developing a symbiotic co-culture to enable the high-yield conversion of carbon-rich waste gases to high-value fuels and chemicals. The use of multiple microbes with specialized metabolic capabilities enables the generation a wider portfolio of products and more stable operation than is possible with a single microbe.

The Woolston lab is developing a symbiotic co-culture to enable the high-yield conversion of carbon-rich waste gases to high-value fuels and chemicals. The use of multiple microbes with specialized metabolic capabilities enables the generation a wider portfolio of products and more stable operation than is possible with a single microbe.


Yi Zheng
Recyclable, Scalable and Self-cleaning Passive Cooling Paper for Building Roofs

Prof. Zheng leads a growing lab featuring nano energy from multiple disciplines in materials science, physics, and engineering. He emphasizes the basic and applied study of thermal transport through multifunctional materials. The lab aims to offer energy solutions for applications in the areas of renewable energy harvesting, energy management, thermophotovoltaics, water desalination, and nano sensing.

Compressor-based cooling systems, providing comfortable interior environments for infrastructure, account for about 20% of total worldwide electricity consumption. The resultant greenhouse gas emissions intensify global warming and accelerate climate change. As such, an carbon-neutral, eco-friendly cooling approach is vital. Emerging passive cooling technologies are the perfect solution to this problem, without any energy consumption.

Such an approach, with great market opportunities in both highly developed and developing regions and countries, is becoming an attractive candidate for improving energy efficiencies for buildings, because it eliminates the need for the coolant fluids, electricity, and compressors required by traditional mechanical cooling systems.

Yi Zheng, PhD is an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Northeastern University. In this project, he will conduct the prototype manufacturing and lead the product and business plan development. He is also the Founder and President of a start-up Planck Energies, which produces cost-reducing and energy saving technologies and helps mitigate worldwide environmental crises. In this project, he will conduct the prototype manufacturing and lead the product and business plan development.


Source: Center for Research Innovation

Related Departments:Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering