CERCA Institute presents the 2021 Pioneer Awards

Graphene material for retinal implants, muscle fibre 3D printing, low-cost biosensors for disease detection, advances in the recording of neuronal activity, a new method for modelling faces and biotechnology applied to personalised medicine were the projects awarded in the eighth such awards.

The Pioneer Awards recognise recent PhD graduates who have aimed their research towards industrial or commercial results.

Today the CERCA Institute held the 2021 Pioneer Awards ceremony with the participation of winners, institutions and partner companies. Luis Rovira, director of the Institute, highlighted the quality of the work presented and the real interest shown by several companies, including negotiating a patent.

The winners of the 8th Pioneer Awards are:

Dr Damià Viana Casals for the thesis “EGNITE: Engineered Graphene for Neural Interface”
The Jury considered that the thesis, which describes a microelectrode technology based on EGNITE, a porous graphene material that provides a stable and high-performance bidirectional neural interface, has optimal applications in neural therapy, among other fields, a high impact potential and a technological readiness level (TRL) that is very close to market.

Dr Rafael Mestre Castillo for the thesis “Hybrid bio-robotics: from the nanoscale to the macroscale”
The Jury considered that the thesis, on the development and application of muscle tissue-based bioactuators and biorobots and the improvement of their manufacture using 3D printing technologies, could have a major impact on several sectors and applications.

Dr Patricia Ramírez Priego for the thesis “Low-cost point-of-care biosensor device for clinical diagnosis in developing countries”
The Jury considered that the thesis, which has fully developed an innovative portable biosensor for the rapid diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) directly in urine samples, could have a major social impact, especially in developing countries, and a clear commercial opportunity.

Dr Eduard Masvidal Codina for the thesis “Graphene microtransistors: in wide-bandwidth technology for recording brain field potentials”
The Jury considered that the thesis, which develops flexible neural interfaces based on graphene transistors (gSGFETs) and studies their use for recording neural activity, comparing them with current cutting-edge technologies, demonstrates an implementation of the technology with a major impact on its area of application.

Dr Gemma Rotger Moll for the thesis “Lifelike Humans: Detailed Reconstruction of Expressive Human Faces”
The Jury considered that the thesis, which develops new techniques to achieve the automatic creation of detailed and realistic synthetic character faces (CGI) using low-cost setups, has a direct application for the current and future world of entertainment.

Dr Ariadna Montero Blay for the thesis “Engineering Mycoplasma species for biotechnological and biomedical applications”
The Jury considered that the thesis, which explores how different mycoplasma species can be exploited biotechnologically or in the field of biomedicine, opens the door to new approaches in the field of personalised medicine.

Each prize is worth 1,000 euros, granted by the CERCA Institute and the participating organisations, which this year were the Mobile World Capital Barcelona The Collider programme, the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI), the Chamber of Commerce and the Caixa d’Enginyers bank.

The jury was made up of Melba Navarro, technology transfer expert at the International Center for Numerical Methods in Engineering (CIMNE); Nadia Pons, director of the Health Entrepreneurship Program at the Barcelona Medical Association; Núria Martí, director of Innovation at Biocat; Manuel Palacín, director of the Mobile World Capital Barcelona The Collider programme; Julià Manzanas, RBDM Southern Europe with AREOPA Group International and president of the Catalan Association of Economists Knowledge Economy and Innovation Committee; and Joan Sansaloni, head of the Industrial and Intellectual Property unit at ACCIÓ.

You can view a video of the event here.