NEWS | March 7, 2017

Developing new collaborations and technologies

NSF funds university-industry biophotonic sensors research


With a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), UC Davis and Boston University will focus on establishing partnerships with industry, academe and government that lead to the development of innovative biophotonic technologies for use in medicine and other scientific disciplines.

The grant provides funding for the organizational and procedural framework to support Phase II of the Center for Biophotonic Sensors and Systems (CBSS), a joint program that leverages biophotonics expertise at well-established centers at both universities. Launched in 2011, CBSS is the only NSF-funded Industry/University Cooperative Research Center focused on the study of biosensors.

“CBSS is focused on advancing methods to detect, sense, identify and understand biological properties, conditions or changes at the molecular and cellular and subcellular levels,” said James Chan, director of the CBSS at UC Davis and an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. “Our goal is to foster early-stage and applied research that leads to significant commercial benefits in diagnosing disease, testing drug efficacy, monitoring patient treatments, assessing water and food safety, and related areas.”

NSF began launching Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers more than 30 years ago to stimulate nonfederal support of research and development, speed the transfer of technology to industry, and improve U.S. industrial competitiveness. CBSS was launched in 2011, with Phase I focused on fundamental research in biophotonic sensors and systems, at the intersection of life sciences, medicine and photonics engineering.

During Phase II, researchers at Boston University and UC Davis will continue to develop collaborations among faculty across both campuses and among CBSS members, which include companies, national labs, nonprofits and state, federal and local governments.

“Faculty from diverse colleges, schools and graduate groups across UC Davis participate in the center and contribute their expertise in spectroscopy, microscopy, imaging, single-molecular analysis, non-linear techniques and more, as well as applications,” Chan said.

The NSF collaborative center structure also enables university researchers to learn what industry considers the greatest areas of need and which research can be applied to solve real-world challenges for the most benefit to society.

“For example, the need to decrease health-care costs is a strong driver for developing non-invasive biosensing technologies that detect disease in its earliest stages, when it’s easiest and less costly to treat and the chances for successful treatments are the highest,” Chan said.

Industry involvement is paramount, with members actively participating to guide the direction of research, inform scientists about areas of greatest unmet needs, and provide mentorship.

“Industry participation significantly leverages financial investments to accelerate the knowledge base and also enhances the education of our students at all levels,” Chan said. “Members also benefit by expanding the breadth and diversity of research portfolios, working on pre-competitive technologies that align with long-term strategic directions, being exposed to emerging areas of research that add to the members’ innovation capability and connecting with new talent for recruiting purposes.”

CBSS currently has eight members: BD, Thorlabs, Iris AO, Scienion, Nikon Research Corporation of America, Bioventus, Moxtek and Crossroads Photonics Corporation. Membership fees fund proposals at Boston University and UC Davis that align with the center’s areas of research focus, which include bioimaging, optical diagnostics and analytics. Each area also has research endeavors in systems, sensors and devices, and materials and biology. NSF also requires I/UCRC members to commit to providing a minimum of $2 million collectively in funding for the center research over the next five years. More information about the center’s technology roadmap is available online

The center is accepting research proposals from faculty at UC Davis and Boston University. More information about these funding opportunities and the submission process will be available starting on March 8 on the UC Davis Office of Research website. For information about becoming a Center for Biophotonic Sensors and Systems member, contact Professor James Chan at