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UK's Sensor Center

by Alicia P. Gregory

Gerhardt founded the Center for Sensor Technology nine years ago at the University of Colorado, where he held a position as a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology. "My research group has always focused on the development of technologies to study the living brain," Gerhardt says. "Because of our extensive collaborations throughout the world, in 1991 the National Science Foundation funded our work and basically mandated that we formalize as a center."

Photo of carbon fiber sensorsThese carbon fiber sensors, the type of sensor Gerhardt was designing in 1991 when the Center for Sensor Technology was founded, are based on technology originally developed by the defense department to make stealth components for aircraft.

What Gerhardt created is now called a "virtual center," or what NSF calls a "center without walls." He explains that his "center without walls" includes an administrative office, now at UK, and investigators here who are developing new sensors, but also encompasses more than 100 affiliated research groups at universities and companies around the world. "In the era of e-mail, this works very well," Gerhardt says. "Right now I have a number of collaborations going on with scientists in Holland, Sweden, Germany, Taiwan, and all over the United States and Canada, and the beauty of this arrangement is that we're all working on similar technologies, but we're all supported by our individual institutions."

In 1995, Gerhardt created Quanteon LLC, a private company established to handle the marketing and sales of products developed by the Center for Sensor Technology. "We developed Quanteon, quite frankly, because we realized we were developing technologies other people wanted to buy. It's very valuable to have this company because the center focuses on the development and use of new technologies, while the emphasis on manufacturing and selling these technologies can be handled by a separate entity."

Quanteon operates on what Gerhardt describes as an Asian model of small business. "We farm out a lot of our technology assembly. One of the reasons I came to UK was the availability of small companies in the Lexington area that were willing to work with us on the development of scientific products. One in particular is PCB Assembly Inc. in Lexington. They've been absolutely invaluable to us," he says. "This company understands that you can't think about making scientific technology as you would manufacturing toasters—you're going to make a technology that not everybody in the world is going to be interested in. It is highly specialized."

Gerhardt says Quanteon currently doesn't have any products that fall under the "general market" category; Quanteon's technologies are in demand only by government and industry laboratories, and universities. But his teams are currently working on prototypes of instruments for surgeons. "In fact, we are working with Harvard University on a procedure to actually use the sensors during neurosurgery as a tool to better monitor what's going on in the brain."

Quanteon has manufacturers and distributors all over the United States, and recently made an alliance with a company in Stockholm to build and distribute Quanteon's instruments in Europe.

In September of 1999, Gerhardt transferred his research laboratory, including more than $4 million in funding, and research projects and technologies associated with the Center for Sensor Technology, to UK. Quanteon is now located on the UK campus in the Advanced Science and Technology Commercialization Center (ASTeCC).

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