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University of Iowa News Release


March 9, 2007

UI Individuals, Projects, Companies Honored For Excellence In Innovation

Four individuals, projects and companies connected to the University of Iowa have been honored for excellence in leadership and innovation in technology with the Technology Association of Iowa's (TAI) 2007 Prometheus Awards.

The award-winners, nominated by the IOWA Centers for Enterprise and selected as finalists along with six other UI-connected people and initiatives, were the UI College of Engineering's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) Program; Tom Schnell, director of the UI Operator Performance Laboratory; Joseph Walder of Integrated DNA Technologies, based at the university's Oakdale Research Park; and VIDA Diagnostics, located in the university's Technology Innovation Center.

To view the complete list of honorees, visit

The Iowa Department of Economic Development hosted the March 7 Prometheus Awards celebration, which was attended by more than 320 technology executives and innovators from across Iowa.

"This is a true testament to the level of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship demonstrated by many different facets of the University of Iowa," said UI Vice President for Research Meredith Hay. "It is an honor to have these individuals and initiatives from academia recognized alongside our wonderful partners and collaborators from business and government, all of whom will make a difference locally, statewide and globally."

The Prometheus Awards were created to celebrate the outstanding contributions made by innovative individuals and technology companies each year. According to the TAI, these contributions move the technology industry forward, improve the quality of life in communities throughout Iowa and strengthen the state's economy.

Diane Gallagher, director of the UI Office of Corporate Partnerships, said that Alan Boyle, a correspondent with MSNBC, was the keynote speaker at the award ceremony and was also scheduled to tour the UI campus and see the projects and individuals honored firsthand.

Following are the UI individuals, projects and companies honored at the awards celebration:

-- Top Government Technology of the Year: UI College of Engineering's Virtual Soldier Research (VSR) Program. The VSR Program conducts research aimed at creating human-like figures that are interactive and intelligent. The computer-simulated humans can execute a wide variety of tasks aimed at testing and evaluating vehicles, clothing and other items. Key to the program is a digital human called Santos™, who possesses accurate biomechanical and physiological characteristics, enabling him to predict motion and execute tasks unaided. VSR and Santos™ are designed to save time and money by reducing the need to build physical prototypes in the testing and evaluation of products, equipment, vehicles and armaments prior to manufacture. Barely three years old, VSR has received more than $13 million in U.S. Army and private industry funding.

-- Innovators of the Year: Tom Schnell, UI Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL) director at the UI Center for Computer-Aided Design, and Rockwell Collins Inc. received a joint award for synthetic vision in aircraft cockpits. The OPL team received its award for a fully functional Synthetic Flight Bag™, a portable system for General Aviation. Though Rockwell Collins and OPL were finalists for the same award, the Technology Association of Iowa decided to give the award to both since there is a long-term synergy between the organizations. The OPL is developing systems to improve flight safety, including advanced flight deck design, synthetic and enhanced vision systems, operator state assessment and physiological measurement. One current research activity involves a five-year, $887,628 NASA grant to equip aircraft avionics systems so they can gauge a pilot's state of mind -- based on physiological measures, aircraft state and flight mission parameters -- and to take appropriate action when necessary. For example, on long and boring flights, the avionics system could be alerted to possible pilot drowsiness, based on pilot physiological patterns caused by very low workload levels. The reaction of the avionics system could range from issuing audible warnings to automatically activating the autopilot.

-- CEO of the Year: Joseph Walder, founder of Integrated DNA Technologies, based in Coralville near the university's Oakdale Research Park. IDT is the largest supplier of custom nucleic acids in the United States, serving the areas of academic research, biotechnology, clinical diagnostics and pharmaceutical development. IDT's primary business is the manufacturing of custom DNA and RNA oligonucleotides (oligos) for research applications. Walder, who launched IDT in 1987, has helped the company achieve annual double-digit growth over the past 10 years. Walder, currently adjunct professor of biochemistry at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and IDT's president and CEO, founded the company through a partnership with Baxter Healthcare Corporation at the UI Technology Innovation Center business incubator. Today, the company he started has grown from a start-up with 10 synthesizing machines to one with more than 500, serving customers all around the globe as they test for genetic diseases, discover new drugs and develop new treatment models tailored to the specific needs of individual patients. IDT employs more than 400 people, a majority of whom work at the company's corporate headquarters in Coralville. Walder was also nominated for a Prometheus Award in the CEO of the Year category.

-- Outstanding Startup Company of the Year: VIDA Diagnostics. Located in the UI's Technology Innovation Center, VIDA Diagnostics is a UI spin-off company based on research done at the UI and on core technology licensed from the UI Research Foundation. The company was founded by four UI faculty members: Eric Hoffman, M.D., professor of biomedical engineering, nursing and radiology; Geoffrey McLennan, M.D., professor of internal medicine; Joseph M. Reinhardt, associate professor of biomedical engineering; and Milan Sonka, professor of electrical and computer engineering. VIDA develops medical imaging and analysis software for assessing lung structure and function. VIDA's software solutions, based on research conducted at the UI, aids in the planning, guidance and evaluation of various therapeutic interventions for lung diseases. VIDA's customers include researchers at pulmonary device and pharmaceutical companies as well as researchers at leading lung research centers.

Other UI-connected people and initiatives nominated for the award and chosen as finalists were the UI College of Education's ePortfolio project in the Top Government Technology of the Year category; Dr. George Bergus and Ellen Franklin in the UI Carver College of Medicine were nominated for the college's Performance-Based Assessment Program in the Educator of the Year category; Lee Carmen, director of health care information systems for the UI Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics, was nominated for the Chief Information Officer of the Year award; Innovative Software Engineering was nominated in the Service Provider of the Year and Technology Company of the Year; and IDT was nominated for Top Growth Company of the Year and Technology User of the Year.

Pamela York, executive director of the UI Research Foundation, served on the panel of distinguished judges who selected the award recipients.

Major event sponsors included Applied Art and Technology; LWBJ; McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC; and Oracle. The Des Moines Business Record is the official media sponsor.

The Technology Association of Iowa is a member-based association driving the success of the tech industry. Now in its 10th year, TAI works to create and sustain a positive IT environment for economic growth and job creation through innovation, advocacy and leadership. Its members include business, academia, and government organizations.

The IOWA Centers for Enterprise integrates existing economic development activities at the UI, offers a comprehensive program that promotes economic development and technology transfer, provides assistance to Iowa startups and existing Iowa businesses and communities, and helps the state of Iowa develop a creative, entrepreneurial workforce. The IOWA Centers optimizes the flow of university intellectual property into opportunities for licensing, commercialization and business development. For more information, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Lois J. Gray, 319-384-0077,; Writers: Gary Galluzzo and George McCrory.