Four UNI faculty advance research following Intellectual Property and Innovation Disclosure Competition

Four UNI faculty advance research following Intellectual Property and Innovation Disclosure Competition

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Four innovative ideas by University of Northern Iowa faculty won a cash prize and university support to move forward with their research.

The winners of the Intellectual Property (IP) and Innovation Disclosure Competition are Taraneh Haghanikar, associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction; Dheryta Jaisinghani, assistant professor of Computer Science; Kirk Manfredi, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Penny Wang, instructor of Languages and Literatures. 

Each submitted ideas in their respective areas of academia and, in the final week of 2022, were notified that they won with a $500 prize and additional support from the university to move forward with the following projects:

A challenge for teachers and librarians is evaluating multicultural books to identify which help promote diversity and overcome biases instead of perpetuating them. Haghanikar proposed a system using data visualization and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze fictional diverse characters. It will inform users on diversity features and will improve with information from end-users.

Developing effective social interactions that promote their learning is challenging for students. Jaisinghani proposed a smartphone app that helps students improve on their social skills, particularly those that engage in brainstorming and problem discussion with peers and professors.

Many pharmaceuticals, such as penicillin, have been derived from fungi and bacteria. Manfredi proposed isolating antimicrobial compounds from fungus. Fungi that may have unique new compounds are being analyzed from samples from caves (obtained from UNI’s Wind Cave Project) and insects.

Learning a new language is difficult and the approach taken by many familiar language learning systems doesn’t support the development of natural conversation. Wang is working with collaborators in movie production to develop a virtual reality language class with voice recognition and 360 videos of real-world simulated situations. The initial system is for learning Chinese and will be extended to French and Spanish.

"UNI has great researchers and innovators working to understand the world around us and improve our lives,” said Paul Kinghorn, intellectual property officer and director of Advance Iowa at UNI. “The Intellectual Property Office is poised to assist in identifying, protecting and advancing this work whether at the earliest stages of ideation such as those represented by our fall 2022 winners, or the other projects that have resulted in successful patent attainment and the active commercialization from the IP.”

“People wrongly assume that commercial potential only resides in work from STEM departments,” said Bill Harwood, science and technology officer and head of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at UNI. “What I’ve found, however, is that we have wonderfully innovative faculty all across the university with ideas we can help develop. These award winners are developing projects that can make a difference to people well beyond campus, and it is exciting to work with these creative faculty.”

UNI is committed to encouraging, facilitating and promoting the development of patentable or copyrightable intellectual property and know-how to benefit the inventor, UNI’s educational mission, the industry and the people of Iowa. For more information on intellectual property at UNI, visit