Elman Family Foundation Innovation Fund

Jump to 2022 Funded Projects

The Elman Family Foundation Innovation Fund (formerly the Noble Family Innovation Fund), established with a $10 million philanthropic commitment to the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, supports basic and translational research involving interactions on the nanoscale — measured in billionths of a meter. Funding is earmarked for projects with substantial promise for commercialization and societal impact. The goal is to create a model for academic research and entrepreneurship that enables strategic investment to seed discoveries that have the potential to be translated for the public good.

“The Elman Family Foundation Innovation Fund adds momentum to our efforts at the CNSI to facilitate basic discovery, and to translate our discoveries into knowledge-driven commercial enterprises,” said Jeff F. Miller, UCLA’s Fred Kavli Professor of NanoSystems Sciences and the director of the CNSI. “This is a remarkable example of philanthropy with the potential to not only accelerate game-changing technologies on the path to the market — where they can do the most good for the most people — but also feed job creation in California.”

The objectives of the Innovation Fund at CNSI are to:

  • Drive leading-edge research in materials, energy, information technologies, environmental sustainability, life and biomedical sciences and related areas for the benefit of society

  • Accelerate high-risk/high-reward interdisciplinary research, from basic to translational, and the development of new tools and technologies with exceptional promise

  • Provide investigators with resources to jump‐start new research efforts and directions by providing seed‐funding to generate results that will lead to follow-on funding (i.e., federal, foundation, private, and/or other University fund sources such as the TDG-sponsored UCLA Innovation Fund)

  • Support discovery, innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship at UCLA

Seed Funding Program

The CNSI issues an annual call soliciting applications for funding by the Elman Family Foundation Innovation Fund Seed Funding Program.    Awards are made for a period of up to 2 years and $250,000.    Priority will be given to team science projects that propose to advance bold research concepts for maximized societal impact.  Proposed projects should exhibit the potential to secure external funding (i.e., federal research support, foundation support, capital investment, etc.) at the end of the funding period.  Applicants are encouraged to collaborate with and/or utilize CNSI Technology Centers to advance their research mission.

The next round of submissions will be announced in 2024.

2022 Funded Projects

For the second year of funding, the CNSI kicked off a competitive process with the solicitation of letters of intent in February 2022. Grants of up to $250,000 and two years were awarded to a dozen teams pursuing high-risk, high-reward science and engineering:


Project Title: Development of a wireless stimulating depth electrode for invasive seizure monitoring in epilepsy patients

Investigators: Ausaf Bari; Aydin Babakhani; Inna Keselman

  • Ausaf Bari, an assistant professor of neurosurgery, leads a multidisciplinary collaboration aiming to better understand and treat epilepsy. He and his colleagues are developing an implantable electrode for wirelessly monitoring and stimulating the brains of people confronted with serious seizure disorders. The device tackles a substantial obstacle for current treatment approaches — locating the section of the brain where seizures originate.

Ausaf Bari

UCLA Neurosurgery

Aydin Babakhani

UCLA Neurosurgery

Inna Keselman

UCLA Neurology

Project Title: Targeted sequencing panel to quantify genetic risk for prostate cancer

Investigators:  Paul Boutros

  • Paul Boutros, professor of human genetics and of urology, is pushing forward a technology that may result in a comprehensive, fast and inexpensive genetic test that predicts which cases of prostate cancer will be aggressive, which is a current challenge in treating the disease. The core idea is to combine all existing genetic assessments for prostate cancer in a single test.

    Paul Boutros

    UCLA Urology

    Project Title: Discovery of functional T cell receptors targeting prostatic acid phosphatase using nanovial technology

    Investigators: Dino Di Carlo; Owen Witte

    • A team focused on furthering treatment approaches for prostate cancer that employ engineered T cells of the immune system is helmed by Dino Di Carlo, the Armond and Elena Hairapetian Professor of Engineering and Medicine. Applying his technology for sorting single cells and capturing their secretions, the researchers are developing a method to quickly screen T cells for potency in targeting a protein specific to prostate tumor cells.

    Dino Di Carlo

    UCLA Engineering

    Owen Witte


    Project Title: A minimally-invasive bioanalytics-enabled wearable technology for personalized therapeutics

    Investigators:   Sam Emaminejad; Benjamin Wu

    • Sam Emaminejad, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is heading up an effort to create inexpensive wearable sensors for precision drug dosing. The devices are designed to measure levels of compounds in the body painlessly from the fluid that fills the spaces between cells, and communicate the results wirelessly. Monitoring of this type for patients prescribed antibiotics has the potential to reduce both harmful side e ects and drug resistance in microbes.

    Sam Emaminejad

    UCLA Engineering

    Benjamin Wu

    UCLA Engineering

    Project Title: AI-based Manufacturing of Lab-grown Human Brain Tissues for Neurological Disease Study

    Investigators:  Neil Lin; Bennet Novitch; Cho-jui Hsieh

    • Neil Lin, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of bioengineering, leads a collaboration aspiring to advance research into neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and brain cancer. The investigators are using artificial intelligence to help brain organoids, lab-grown tissue used to study these conditions, better mimic processes of the actual human brain.

    Neil Lin

    UCLA Engineering

    Cho-jui Hsieh

    UCLA Computer Science

    Bennet Novitch

    UCLA Bioscience

    Project Title: Chemoselective radiolabeling with a gold(III) organometallic complex for noninvasive PET imaging of CAR-T cells

    Investigators: Jennifer Murphy; Alex Spokoyny; Yvonne Chen

    • Jennifer Murphy, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, heads up a project designed to enhance CAR T cell therapy, an innovative treatment for blood cancers in which a patient’s own cells are re-engineered to fight cancer. It’s currently difficult to monitor the persistence of therapeutic cells in the body — a key indicator of the treatment’s success. Addressing this need, Murphy and her colleagues are working on a technique for labeling the cancer-fighting T cells so that they can be seen in a PET scan.

    Jennifer Murphy

    UCLA Pharmacology

    Yvonne Chen


    Alex Spokoyny

    UCLA Chemistry

    Project Title: 10ps TOF PET Based on Quantum Dot Nanocomposite Scintillator

    Investigators: Qibing Pei; Arion Chatziioannou

    • A project helmed by Qibing Pei, a professor of materials science and engineering, aims to improve positron emission tomography, commonly known as the PET scan. This imaging technology has health applications such as diagnosing cancer and monitoring the progress of its treatment. The researchers are using nanoscale semiconductor particles called quantum dots on a specialized polymer in a bid to dramatically increase the speed and resolution of PET scans.

    Qibing Pei

    UCLA Engineering

    Arion Chatziioannou

    UCLA Pharmacology

    Project Title: Explore transmission mechanism of different pathological a-synuclein conformations by mathematic modeling and high-throughput functional study.

    Investigators: Chao Peng; Robert Damoiseaux

    • Chao Peng, assistant professor neurology, leads a collaboration examining a specific protein that is misfolded (albeit in different ways) in multiple neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Lewy-body dementia and about half of Alzheimer’s cases. Combining mathematical modeling with state-of-the-art screening methods, Peng and his colleagues want to create new knowledge about the different forms this protein can take, and how the misfolding spreads in the brain. The team’s findings could provide the foundation for new therapies.

    Chao Peng

    UCLA Neurology

    Robert Damoiseaux

    UCLA Pharmacology

    Project Title: In vitro assays for effective inhibitor screening targeting SARS-CoV-2’s RdRp

    Investigators: Shimon Weiss; Robert Damoiseuax

    • Shimon Weiss, the Dean M. Willard Professor of Chemistry, heads up a team advancing drug discovery against COVID-19. The researchers are developing methods for molecular screening with the goal of producing insights into a specific protein that is vital for the reproduction of SARS-CoV-2 and viruses like it — and ultimately identifying ways to disrupt the process.

    Shimon Weiss

    UCLA Chemistry

    Robert Damoiseaux

    UCLA Pharmacology

    Sustainability and clean energy technologies

    Project Title: Approach Shockley-Queisser limit in CdTe solar cells with pinning-free van der Waals contacts

    Investigators: Xiangfeng Duan; Justin Caram; Adam Stieg

    • A collaboration seeking to improve solar cell technology is led by Xiangfeng Duan, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The project takes advantage of van der Waals forces — which control phenomena such as water droplet formation with attraction or repulsion between molecules at very short range — and the special, quantum mechanics-based capabilities shown by certain atomically thin “two-dimensional” materials. With these tools, Duan and his teammates hope to boost the overall efficiency with which solar cells convert sunlight to electricity.

    Xiangfeng Duan

    UCLA Chemistry

    Adam Stieg


    Justin Caram

    UCLA Chemistry

    Project Title: Aerogel-based metamaterial selective thermal emitters for radiative cooling of windows

    Investigators: Aaswath Raman; Laurent Pilon; Bruce Dunn; Sarah Tolbert

    • Aaswath Raman, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, heads up a team developing technology that could lower energy use in buildings. Windows account for up to 30% of buildings’ energy needs for heating and cooling, so the researchers’ goal is to produce a gel, combining solid and gas, that could be applied to windows as a transparent, thin film and redirect the outward flow of heat straight up to the sky.

    Aaswath Raman

    UCLA Engineering

    Bruce Dunn

    UCLA Engineering

    Laurent Pilon

    UCLA Engineering

    Sarah Tolbert

    UCLA Chemistry

    Project Title: Engineering microbiome with functional biotic-abiotic interface

    Investigators: Yu Huang; Jeff Miller; Hong Zhou

    • Yu Huang, a professor of materials science and engineering, helms a cross-disciplinary team working on ways to improve the performance of a bacterium, Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, that has shown the ability to produce electrical energy after feeding upon organic waste and carbon dioxide. The investigators are re-engineering the bug using silver nanoparticles, in hopes of enhancing this process and making possible microbial fuel cells that generate energy cleanly.

    Yu Huang

    UCLA Engineering

    Hong Zhou


    Jeff Miller


    Past Seminars

    Click the play icon to view previous Elman Fund virtual webinars:


    • Xiangfeng Duan
      • Zhuocheng Yan, Dong Xu, Zhaoyang Lin, Peiqi Wang, Bocheng Cao, Huaying Ren, Frank Song, Chengzhang Wan, Laiyuan Wang, Jingxuan Zhou, Xun Zhao, Jun Chen, Yu Huang, Xiangfeng Duan, Highly stretchable van der Waals thin films for adaptable and breathable electronic membranes, Science, Volume 375, 2022, https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abl8941
    • Andre Nel
      • Qi Liu, Xiang Wang, Yu-Pei Liao, Chong Hyun Chang, Jiulong Li, Tian Xia, Andre E. Nel, Use of a liver-targeting nanoparticle platform to intervene in peanut-induced anaphylaxis through delivery of an Ara h2 T-cell epitope, Nano Today, Volume 42, 2022, 101370, ISSN 1748-0132, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nantod.2021.101370
    • Tim Fisher
      • Mostafa Abuseada, Chuyu Wei, R. Mitchell Spearrin, and Timothy S. Fisher, Solar–Thermal Production of Graphitic Carbon and Hydrogen via Methane Decomposition, Energy & Fuels 2022 36 (7), 3920-3928
        DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.1c04405

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