It would have been perfectly acceptable if Tickle College of Engineering Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Michael Danquah shouted with excitement while sitting at his desk inside the Zeanah Engineering Complex.
Danquah was online watching the 2023 IChemE Global Awards ceremony, which was taking place in Birmingham, UK on November 30, 2023. Danquah and Jian Liu, an assistant professor in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, were nominated for the Biochemical Engineering Award for their work on a National Science Foundation project that aspires to revolutionize detection systems in food manufacturing and processing facilities to enhance food safety standards.
As Danquah saw their names announced as the winners, he managed to stifle his enthusiasm and react with just a broad smile to avoid disturbing colleagues working around him.
The IChemE awards are widely recognized as the world’s most prestigious chemical engineering awards. A panel of 30 judges selected from 100 finalists across 19 award categories to spotlight organizations and individuals leading the way in their fields.
“Being a finalist was good feeling, let alone winning,” Danquah said. “When I realized that we’d won, it confirmed the impact of what we are doing in supporting the food industry and how we address infectious diseases that are associated with food. Knowing that the technology you are working on day-to-day in the lab has contributed to making society better is a great feeling.”
At the time the award was announced, Liu was in his lab at UT working with students on their research papers.
“The feeling that swept over me upon reading that email was a blend of sheer joy and profound appreciation for our team’s work, led by Michael,” Liu said. “It was one of those moments that filled me with surprise and a deep sense of gratitude. I am incredibly proud to be part of such a dedicated team, and it’s truly gratifying to see the committee recognize the value of our research into biosensing for foodborne pathogens.”
Danquah and Liu’s project is in partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University. The team includes three UT students. The group is trying to create a detection system that can quickly detect harmful bacteria in food manufacturing facilities to help mitigate health risks and reduce economic losses incurred by food product recalls.
The innovative and cost-effective technology hinges on the utilization of aptamers, which are unique, artificially designed nucleic acid molecules that serve to identify bacterial pathogens promptly and with high precision. The project deploys deep learning computational methods to bolster the precision of the system and can integrate with mobile devices, facilitating quick detection and enabling wireless data transmission.
“It’s really going to revolutionize how industries analyze their food substances before they put it in the market,” Danquah said. “Industries tend to recall food substances and it results in a lot of economic losses for the industry.”
In addition to winning the IChemE award last month, Danquah was elected as a Senior Fellow of Advanced Higher Education. The Senior Fellowship is awarded to professionals who have a sustained record of leading, influencing and supporting quality learning in higher education.
“All of these honors help put the university on the global map even more,” Danquah said. “This type of exposure also opens the doors for industries to collaborate with UT, which could potentially lead to spin offs from the technology we are developing. It demonstrates UT’s capabilities.”
Rhiannon Potkey (865-974-0683, firstname.lastname@example.org)