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Professor Awarded $980,000 Grant

Mike DeGrandpre, a University of Montana chemistry professor and oceanographer, has been awarded a grant to help make a submersible water sensor he developed commercially viable.

The $980,000 grant comes from the National Oceanographic Partnership Program. Grant co-sponsors are the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Office of Naval Research.

The sensor is called a Submersible Autonomous Moored Instrument for pH, or SAMI-pH. The instrument measures the pH of seawater or freshwater. It is an automated analyzer that can be placed on buoys for up to one year. Collected data is logged into an internal memory chip to be downloaded later.

"This grant will facilitate commercialization by providing support for improvements in the mechanical design and software in order to make the instrument more reliable and user-friendly," DeGrandpre said.

DeGrandpre first began working on sensor technology for marine research from 1990 to 1993 during his postdoctoral work. Since joining UM in 1996, he has commercialized a CO2 sensor (SAMI-CO2) which is in use by researchers around the globe. The SAMI-pH is a more recent invention that also is likely to have a significant international market.

In 1999, he founded UM spin-off company Sunburst Sensors, now co-owned with mechanical engineer Jim Beck, to manufacture and market the SAMI-CO2. Through December 2007, the company had generated $1.2 million in sales and service. Sunburst Sensors is located across the Clark Fork River from campus in the Montana Technology Enterprise Center, Missoula’s business incubator.

"This is an exciting opportunity to commercialize a sensor while also providing a technology that can help researchers understand how CO2 is impacting the environment," DeGrandpre said.