MHC's First Patent-Related Venture Heats Up

Posted: October 6, 2009

On September 16, the U.S .Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Alenas Imaging, Inc. a $185,000 grant to develop a new method for locating defects in solar cells. The grant for a project titled Multimodal Imaging for Solar Cell Microcrack Detection is a DOE Solar America program funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Alenas Imaging was cofounded in 2007 by MHC associate professor of physics Janice Hudgings to develop commercial applications for an advanced imaging technique she and her colleagues had created at Mount Holyoke and MIT. The patented technique, known as thermoreflectance imaging, allows heat flows to be visualized on a much finer spatial scale than previous methods.

As the holder of patents developed by Hudgings here, Mount Holyoke owns an equity position in the firm.

Hudgings, who has received several awards for her teaching and research, including a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award, said, “Alenas was founded because the thermal imaging techniques we originally developed for research on optoelectronic devices such as lasers promise to have much broader applications. For example, the U.S. solar cell manufacturing industry has a problem controlling tiny defects in cells that cause reduced efficiency or failures. Alenas Imaging products will make finding these defects much easier and reduce the overall cost of solar energy.”  Hudgings is also the chief technical officer for Alenas.

The DOE grant is the second received by Alenas since its founding; in 2008, the company received a $200,000 NSF Small Company Technology Transfer Grant for still other aspects of solar cell testing.

Alenas Imaging is MHC's first high tech spinoff company. In addition to possible financial gain, it is expected that association with new businesses--a rarity for liberal arts colleges--will offer opportunities for students, including encouraging an atmosphere of entrepreneurship.

Dr. Lawrence Domash, CEO and cofounder of the company, said, “The College has been extremely supportive of the Alenas startup and has helped us in many ways, including incubating the company and leasing us space and laboratory facilities. Although it is common at universities such as MIT to actively encourage spinoff companies, it is unusual at smaller colleges. The Mount Holyoke administration has been courageous in launching into new territory.”

Mary Jo Maydew, MHC vice president for finance and administration, agreed. "If the College can expand its approach not only to support, but to benefit financially from some of the the cutting-edge work of our faculty,” Maydew aid, “then we've opened an avenue toward bringing new revenue to the College. I hope that our partnership with Alenas is the first of many such ventures."

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