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Pacemakers, insulin, Breathalyzer tests, computers and MRI machines are university developments. All of these technologies were so obviously important that they were adopted long before universities began making an effort to get laboratory inventions out the door. But many more sat on the shelves.

One of these was a plan for a radiation camera that was capable of overlaying an image of the room with a map of radiation sources. Initially proposed in the mid-1990s by Zhong He, a professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at U-M, it might have been ready to deploy in the areas around Fukushima following the disaster in March 2011.

But the companies that were theoretically capable of rapidly developing such a camera through the 2000s couldn’t do it. He estimates that $50 million in grants and contracts went toward room-temperature radiation cameras, but no one realized the potential of cadmium zinc telluride crystals, which are at the heart of He’s camera.

"Our conclusion was that we cannot count on other companies to work on the technology," He said. If his team wanted to see these cameras in the hands of nuclear safety professionals, they would have to start a company.

So in the fall of 2011, He began a journey that more and more faculty around the U.S. are making - from inventor to innovator. These entrepreneurs are helping universities to deliver on the promise that taxpayer-funded research will drive economic growth, and lately, universities are doing much more to help them succeed.

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