Cougar Cage funding reaches total of nearly $750,000

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Latest round of “Shark Tank” style competition funds both faculty and student research.

A proposal to tackle the rising threat of antibiotic resistant “superbugs” earned a team of Washington State University graduate students $100,000 in funding as part of the most recent Cougar Cage event, hosted by the Palouse Club on Sept. 8.

The proposal from Marwa Aly and Devon McCornack, both PhD candidates in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, was one of three projects selected for investment by the Palouse Club out of six finalists.

Modeled after the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” Cougar Cage brings together the Palouse Club — a group of generous Puget Sound area Cougs — to consider projects from WSU faculty and students looking for philanthropic investments. Those selected by the Palouse Club receive both funding and mentorship, along with industry networking opportunities.

“The implications of this support are far-reaching,” said President Kirk Schulz. “The Palouse Club’s generosity will go a long way in ensuring that WSU researchers, students, and programs are poised for continued success as they move forward with their innovative projects and proposals.”

Since its launch in the spring of 2021, this competitive platform has helped catapult more than a dozen WSU-led projects from ideation to implementation, awarding a total of nearly $750,000 over three years to support a range of programs and initiatives across the university.  

This year’s award winners are: 

  • Marwa Aly and Devon McCornack, both PhD candidates in the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, received $100,000 for their proposal to tackle the rising threat of antibiotic resistance “superbugs.” Aly and McCornack plan to leverage exosomes, a kind of novel biomolecule, to combat multi-drug resistant pathogens without the use of antibiotics. The Infectious Disease Society of America reported 1.3 million deaths directly attributable to antimicrobial-resistant pathogens in 2019, a number expected to climb as high as 10 million by 2050 if preventative actions aren’t taken.
  • Konstantin Matveev, a professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, received $50,000 to support his proposal to design a thermoacoustic cooler for hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen has long-held promise as a clean alternative to fossil fuels; however, challenges in production, storage, and transport currently limit its application. Matveev hopes to change that by developing a new cryogenic cooling system to prevent hydrogen boil-off loss and reduce the cost of liquefaction. If successful, Matveev’s thermoacoustic cooler could help make hydrogen an important green fuel in the fight against climate change.
  • Carlos Venegas and Charles Ludwig, two WSU undergraduates and members of Palouse Aerospace — the university’s rocketry and aviation engineering club — were awarded $10,000 for their proposal to develop hybrid rocket engines. Venegas and Ludwig plan to develop hybrid rocket engines with a solid fuel and liquid oxidizer configuration.

“When you see results like these, it’s no mystery why Cougar Cage captures such excitement and enthusiasm across the university,” said Mike Connell, vice president of WSU Advancement and CEO of the WSU Foundation. “It’s more than an incredible opportunity for researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs — it’s a powerful example of what can happen when a small group of generous Cougs come together to make a difference. WSU is fortunate to have friends like the Palouse Club to make it possible.” 

The next Cougar Cage is scheduled for fall 2024.

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