Mark Burns, T.C. Chang Professor of Engineering, has been selected to receive the 2019 Rexford E. Hall Innovation Excellence Award from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. This award recognizes faculty members who have developed a breakthrough technology or made a significant innovation and demonstrated its transformational potential in engineering practice, the marketplace, or advancing societal good.
From early in his career, Burns has shown the ability to take an innovative concept and turn it into reality. In 1998, his group developed their microfluidic device – the first miniaturized DNA analysis system that became known as a “lab-on-a-chip.” The device included a micromachined channel for transporting the chemicals that drive reactions (called reagents) on the chip, a reaction chamber, an electrophoresis-based separation system and fluorescent detectors. Their results were published in Science (M. A. Burns, et al., “An integrated nanoliter DNA analysis device,” 1998).
Burns has 20 patents based on his microfluidic inventions, many of which are licensed to industrial partners. As an example, much of his valve and reaction technology was licensed by two of his former students, Sundaresh Brahmasandra and Kaylan Handique, and used to launch a company called HandyLab. The purpose of the company was to develop easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic systems to transform the healthcare industry. The company was successful in producing a series of genetic diagnostic products and was bought by Becton Dickinson in 2009.
In recognition of his groundbreaking work in the field of microfluidic devices, Burns was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2013.
Read more about the microfluidic chip
In 2017, his group developed a millimeter-sized simple tool that can detect the presence of lead and other heavy metals in drinking water (Lin, Li, and Burns, “A drinking water sensor for lead and other heavy metals,” Analytical Chemistry, 2017.) Last year, the Burns’ team collaborated with Tim Scott, an associate professor in the department, to discover a way to do 3D printing 100 times faster than conventional 3D printers. Their results were published this month in Science Advances (de Beer, Burns, Scott, et al., “Rapid, continuous additive manufacturing by volumetric polymerization inhibition patterning, January 2019)
Burns has also worked to help his colleagues be innovative in their research with the creation of the University’s Mcubed program. Together with Alec Gallimore, presently the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, and Thomas Zurbuchen, now an associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, Burns created Mcubed in 2012 to provide Michigan researchers with rapid funding so they could immediately start work.
This seed funding program enables researchers to receive small grants with no formal peer review—just an interdisciplinary collaboration. Mcubed encourages research teams—“cubes” of three professors, who represent at least two different disciplines—to pursue ideas that might otherwise be too risky to be worth proposing for a conventional grant.
The six-year investment of $10M by the Provost and Vice President of Research through Mcubed resulted in 476 interdisciplinary projects and has already translated into over $130 million from outside funding sources for faculty research. The program is starting to catch on across the country too: University of Virginia, Texas A&M, and Michigan State University have adopted similar programs.
Learn more about M-cubed
In addition to his work in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Burns is the Executive Director of Mcubed and Research Innovation in the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR).