Resource: Faculty Innovation Fellowship Program Welcomes Second Cohort

By: Sandra Flores, UCI Beall Applied Innovation
Article Illustration by: Elisa Le, UCI Beall Applied Innovation


On the UC Irvine (UCI) campus, world-class faculty connect with each other and build the campus community in the name of innovation, all thanks to the Faculty Innovation Fellowship program. Faculty Innovation Fellows are selected based on their record of innovation at UCI and are chosen to be ambassadors for UCI Beall Applied Innovation.

Each year a new cohort is recruited to bring a new opportunity for fellows to cross-collaborate with one another across different disciplines and cohorts. In December 2020, the program recognized its second cohort of 18 fellows who will join the program’s first cohort, which was recognized in January 2020.

To become a fellow, the faculty describe the work they do, their research and how innovation affects what they do in their field and their interaction with students during a nomination and review process.

Spearheaded by David Tiemeier, Ph.D., managing director of the Research Translation Group at  Applied Innovation, fellows can access Applied Innovation’s network of advisors, entrepreneurs, mentors and companies.

“They can use these resources to enhance the innovations they generate and to move those innovations toward commercialization,” said Tiemeier. “In turn, as they become more familiar with those resources, they’re in a better position to share that information with the faculty around them in the schools in which they operate.”

This latest cohort will serve from 2021 through 2022:

• Maksim Plikus, Professor / School of Biological Sciences
• Nia Dowell, Assistant Professor / School of Education
• Mo Li, Associate Professor / Henry Samueli School of Engineering
• Alex Borucki, Associate Professor / School of Humanities
• Theresa Tanenbaum, Assistant Professor / Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences
• Yama Akbari, Assistant Professor / School of Medicine
• Kevin Beier, Assistant Professor / School of Medicine
• Hamid Djalilian, Professor / School of Medicine
• Michael Oh, Professor / School of Medicine
• Raj Vyas, Associate Professor / School of Medicine
• Shawn Xiang, Associate Professor / School of Medicine
• Young Jik Kwon, Professor / School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences
• Shane Ardo, Associate Professor / School of Physical Sciences
• Matthew Harding, Professor / School of Social Sciences
• John Crawford, Professor / Claire Trevor School of the Arts
• Holly Poe Durbin, Professor / Claire Trevor School of the Arts
• Vincent Olivieri, Professor / Claire Trevor School of the Arts
• Kelli Sharp, Assistant Professor / Claire Trevor School of the Arts

With the addition of the second cohort, the program now has 35 faculty members from across campus.

“It’s making them more familiar with the resources that are available to them and with each other. It’s empowering them to become ambassadors for innovation to other faculty,” said Tiemeier. “And, it’s creating an opportunity for ‘innovation synergy’ by bringing innovators from quite different disciplines together.”

Learn more about UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s resources.  Read full issue of UCI Beall Applied Innovation “Rising Tide.”

The world’s youngest self-made billionaire hopes to power every future self-driving car with a technology that Elon Musk says is ‘doomed’


On December 3, pink confetti rained down upon yet another tech entrepreneur. Decked out in his own interpretation of CEO casual — a navy zip-up jacket over a button-down, dark jeans, and matching sneakers — the 6-foot-plus Austin Russell towered over the Nasdaq platform in Times Square, clapping and nodding as he rang the opening bell.

He was on the mostly empty trading floor for the virtual IPO ceremony for Luminar, the self-driving-car tech startup that Russell founded at 17, eight years ago. Self-studying and tinkering as a teen put Russell, now 25, on the path to dominate autonomous cars, thanks to breakthroughs he made with lidar sensors.

Russell’s rise reads like a Silicon Valley myth. He was hacking at lidar — an innovative way for cars to see the world in his self-made garage lab in 2012, years before the importance of lidar became clear. Today Luminar’s 350 employees operate out of a 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at its Orlando, Florida, headquarters and a converted tank-repair facility in Palo Alto, California.

He took Luminar public in December through a reverse merger with the special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Gores Metropoulos. Four days after the initial public offering, shares of Luminar Technologies jumped as much as 25%, extending a three-day gain of more than 110% to $41.80 per share.

The stock has been somewhat volatile since, retreating nearly 50% at one point to $22.87, and trading around $30 as of Friday’s close. During the mid-December trench in the stock’s value, the short-selling firm Citron advised against buying Luminar stock in a tweet, while one analyst has a hold rating on it. (Two other analysts have a buy rating on it.) Still, Russell has vaulted into historic, generational wealth.

Russell is now the youngest self-made billionaire and one of just a dozen living people to become a self-made billionaire before 30, according to Forbes. He owns about one-third of Luminar’s outstanding equity and had an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion as of January 17.

On a Zoom call from a wood-paneled room, Russell told me a few weeks after the IPO that he was more excited about the “creation curve” in his career: “It’s exciting to be among the Zuckerbergs of this world who have really built out something incredible early on.”

Zuckerberg became a billionaire at 23 thanks to Facebook. At the time, his net worth was $1.1 billion; today it’s $100.2 billion. Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy of Snapchat previously held the youngest-billionaire title with $1.5 billion each at the time; Russell topped that with a $2.4 billion net worth when he hit the three-comma club. Imagine what all this means for Russell, who had the richest fortune of the 10 people who became billionaires as 20-somethings.

An outlier among outliers, Russell caught disruptive tech innovation in an emerging industry at an unprecedented young age, with wealth creation accelerated by a novel financial process.

Here’s what it takes to become the youngest billionaire.

Doomed to fail?

Luminar isn’t without its critics. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has criticized lidar sensors for years, saying they’re too expensive for consumer cars. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed,” Musk said at Tesla’s 2019 Autonomy Day.

The technology was developed in 1960. Lidar, whose name combines the words light and radar, could unlock the large-scale adoption of self-driving cars.

Lidar sensors emit pulses of light, helping self-driving cars perceive the road by measuring how long the light takes to bounce back after hitting an object. Imagine if your eyes were able to detect the amount of time it took between turning on a flashlight and seeing an object reflected in its beam while providing a detailed map highlighting the size and position objects in the world around you — that’s what happens when a vehicle’s lidar sensors send out light that bounces back. Luminar also makes software and other hardware components for driver-assistance programs.

But to Russell, Musk has no choice but to denounce lidar because Tesla is already committed to a different technology.

“The hard part is that if you make huge promises to folks with existing hardware setups, you kind of back yourself into a corner,” Russell said.

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Russell operated Luminar in secrecy with cofounder Jason Eichenholz from 2012 to 2017, when it emerged from stealth mode, powered by venture funds. Within a year, Luminar had added 200 employees and created a new system that it said could cut the cost of a key component in its lidar from thousands of dollars to just $3.

Lidar can often cost tens of thousands of dollars, but this cost cutting helped Luminar introduce in 2019 a relatively thrifty Iris lidar system starting at a subscription-price point of $1,000 for autonomous applications and $500 for applications in advanced driver-assistance systems. And Russell added that if many people shared Musk’s sentiment, Luminar wouldn’t have been able to sign three production deals in 2020: with Volvo to include the Iris sensors on its cars beginning in 2022, with Daimler to produce autonomous trucks, and with Mobileye to supply lidar units in the first generation of Mobileye’s driverless fleet.

‘An information sponge’

Russell, identifiable by his thick, light ginger hair, talks quickly and confidently but in a way that’s more knowledgeable than cocky. It’s easy to tell he’s housing a lot of info in his brain.

He wasn’t born into a tech-savvy household — his father worked in commercial real estate, and his mother dabbled in modeling and public speaking — but one could say Luminar was in Russell’s blood.

His paternal great-grandfather, S.I. Russell, invented the modern-day electric blanket, and his maternal grandfather, Rudy Cleye, built a raceway.

Russell stacked up his inventor’s résumé early on. He memorized the periodic table of elements at 2, worked as a software consultant by 10, and filed his first patent at 13, which was for a water-recycling system.

As a teenager, Russell mostly lived out of the makeshift electronics and optics lab he set up in his parents’ garage in Newport Beach in Southern California, he said. Surrounded by his self-built supercomputer, he studied hardware systems and later optics and photonics.

When his parents wouldn’t let him get a cellphone, Russell built his own using a Nintendo DS, he told The Orange County Register. He also built a holographic keyboard system, a cancerous-mole laser detector, and developed long-distance wireless power-transmission systems.

“The kid’s mind is so broad that he literally always had 50 ideas going at one time,” Tony Jordan, his physics teacher at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, told Bloomberg in 2017.

The impulse to learn has carried over to his adult life: Russell said he skimmed through 1,000 articles or papers a day. “I’ve always had a lot of curiosity, wanting to understand the ways of how things work, asking way too many questions, just being an information sponge,” Russell said. “I had that bug to always want to build and create early on.”

Rather than “doing the day-to-day stuff” of high school, Russell said he spent more time in his garage lab and working as an independent researcher at the Beckman Laser Institute of the University of California, Irvine.

After high school, he went off to study physics at Stanford but dropped out six months later to continue his work on Luminar after receiving the prestigious Thiel Fellowship, the startup accelerator created by the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel that pays students $100,000 to drop out of school and build a startup for two years.

Russell said he always knew academia wasn’t for him.

He said too many technologies get developed without an application or end up stuck in the lab. He’d followed what the autonomous-vehicle industry was doing with lidar sensors and was determined to find a way to make an affordable version that could be universal.

“It’s very hard to have an appreciable impact on the world with just an idea if you can’t build an economic engine behind it to actually have it have real world application,” he said.

A quiet beginning

In Luminar’s earliest days, Russell built a Silicon Valley hacker-house network, or a coliving space for entrepreneurs. He found himself working among other “smart folks” he could vet as future Luminar employees. The benefits were twofold, he said: It was the most cost-effective way for him to start building a lab, as well as a side business to help finance it.

Russell eventually hired engineers and scaled things up, but he was in no rush.

“There’s a reason we’ve been in stealth so long,” Russell told Insider in 2017, the year the company finally started facing the public. At the time, it had raised $36 million from venture capitalists including GVA Capital, Canvas Ventures, and the 1517 Fund, a venture firm backed by Thiel. “If we announced our plans five years ago, everybody would be doing this,” he said.

Innovation for Russell meant having patience to build a better lidar system that would advance an industry while saving lives. At the time, he said the company had tried 2,000 ways to construct a lidar system before deciding on a functional one that could be manufactured.

Russell eschewed traditional lidar designs and built a new one on a different wavelength and with the chemical compound indium gallium arsenide instead of the typical silicon — more powerful but still safe for eyes. Luminar says its system provides a full seven seconds for a self-driving system to react to an object 250 meters away, longer than its competitors.

Luminar’s lidar breakthroughs are a result of Russell’s unique mindset. He thinks broadly from the bottom up while disregarding the norms of conventional thought, Jun Hong Heng of Crescent Cove Advisors, one of Luminar’s earliest investors, told Insider. According to him, Russell begins his thought process by asking seemingly mundane questions and challenges traditional thinking by asking why things need to be done a certain way.

“Not only is he thinking ‘outside the box,’ Austin is completely discarding the ‘box,'” he said.

A pandemic IPO

When I asked Russell to sum up what it took to be Luminar’s CEO in three qualities, he thought before answering for so long that I thought our Zoom meeting had frozen.

Eventually, he replied: a deep technical understanding, a passion for safety and autonomy, and a relentless desire to win. It also means a lack of sleep; Russell estimates he works 80 to 120 hours a week, saying Saturday mornings are when he’s in his Zen mode. It’s not enough for Russell to just develop the right and best technology; he needs to see through on its implementation until he’s achieved his vision of ending automobile accidents.

For the past year or two, going public had been on Russell’s mind, he said. But the timing wasn’t quite right. That all changed in May, when both Russell and the auto industry hit an important milestone. The deal with Volvo to use Luminar’s lidar in vehicles as part of its advanced driver-assistance system, beginning in 2022, was the first instance of an automaker committing to equip its production vehicles with lidar sensors. (Mercedes-Benz and BMW also have plans to add lidar.)

A Volvo spokesperson told Insider that Luminar “is a clear leader” in lidar and perception technology. “The technology is what Volvo needs to introduce safe autonomous drive to its customers on its next generation platform.”

Russell told Insider in August, when Luminar announced its SPAC deal, that he felt a reverse merger was more appealing than a traditional IPO because it offered more certainty around the money Luminar could raise and the valuation it could receive. It also helped that financial markets had recovered, reverse mergers had become more popular, and Gores — the SPAC Luminar merged with — had tech and automotive expertise, he added.

With a reverse merger, a private company has to negotiate a sale price only with the SPAC, though institutional investors may also pitch in. Gores raised $400 million, and a group of investors including Thiel, Volvo Cars Tech Fund, and VectoIQ raised an additional $170 million, Insider’s Mark Matousek reported.

Russell said he thought the concept of SPAC IPOs was here to stay.

“It enables you to be able to tap into the public markets and establish a smoother, more sensical approach generally than a traditional IPO, and much more quickly,” he said. “I think it’s the future of IPOs.”

The road ahead

But like many high-tech startups, Luminar has been unprofitable. Its revenue increased by nearly $1 million to $12.6 million in 2019, but it lost $94.7 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The autonomous-vehicle industry is still in the early research and development stage, and Luminar doesn’t expect to be profitable until at least 2022, when the Volvo production deal starts. It’s poised to create at least $1.3 billion by 2026, according to SEC filing estimates.

The R&D stage means that Luminar also has no real track record of manufacturing at scale with other orders on the line, though Luminar outsources its series-production manufacturing using its own manufacturing “blueprint,” which it says allows it to scale on demand in a de-risked capacity.

Its competitor Velodyne also went public via SPAC merger, and the lidar startup Aeva plans to do the same. Tristan Gerra, a senior analyst at Robert W. Baird, said he anticipated more companies would come to the lidar space, with consolidation following. Luminar say it’s banking on recent lidar companies seizing opportunities in adjacent industries as it realizes the challenges to exiting the R&D stage.

Luminar could also find itself caught between high-end lidar technologies and the mass-volume market, which is dominated by Velodyne, Gerra, who put a hold on buying or selling Luminar stock, said. Velodyne’s total addressable market will likely be larger since it also targets nonautomotive applications, Gerra said, while Luminar is focused solely on automotive. Velodyne forecast $101 million in revenue for 2020, compared with Luminar’s $15.2 million.

In a best-case scenario, Luminar could dominate the high end of the lidar market and become “the de-facto vendor,” Gerra said.

Russell believes Luminar is capable of doing just that, proved by a lidar system that’s both higher-performing and more affordable than legacy systems and that made Luminar the first to win a series-production deal for autonomy.

Deutsche Bank said it expected Luminar to become a leader in lidar solutions with a total addressable market of $40 billion by 2030.

“Luminar is one of the only available automotive-grade lidar solutions with good enough performance to enable highway-speed vehicle autonomy at an acceptable cost,” Emmanuel Rosner, the lead US auto and auto-technology analyst at Deutsche Bank who put a buy on Luminar stock, told Insider. “Many competing solutions either offer shorter perception range or won’t be ready for production before several more years.”

That is all to say: Luminar’s eight-year progress and tech breakthroughs indicate a promising future, but it’s still relatively early on. Whether Russell’s billionaire status sticks will depend on Luminar’s continued performance.

Now that Luminar is public, Russell is focused on one thing: execution.

“We have everything lined up for us: the technology, the economics, the financial backing, the business, the estimated $1.3 billion order book that we have to deliver against,” he said. “What’s left to do is execute.”

Read full “Business Insider” article.

Bruce Tromberg Discusses Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Initiative

By: Ethan Perez, UCI Beall Applied Innovation
Main photo: Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., speaks at Pathways to Cures: Translational Science Research Day in 2019.
Photo by: Yuxin Cha, Ben Li, Emily Morrison

UCI Beall Applied Innovation recently hosted a virtual event on the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) unprecedented rapid acceleration of diagnostics initiative, with special guest speaker Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the NIH.

Just weeks after many parts of the U.S. were given stay-at-home orders in March 2020, the NIH and NIBIB were fast-tracking programs designed to increase the nation’s COVID-19 diagnostic testing capabilities.

In April of 2020, Tromberg, who was the former director of UC Irvine’s Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, and his team at the NIBIB launched a program devoted to the rapid acceleration of diagnostics (RADx): RADx-Tech/Advanced Technology Platforms (ATP). This program is entirely focused on the development and commercialization of innovative testing technologies, which includes validating, scaling up and moving those technologies into manufacturing, expansion, delivery and dissemination, in a matter of months.

The program invited companies to submit proposals for innovative technologies in the diagnostics space. Over a roughly six-month time frame, nearly 3,000 proposals were carefully evaluated, reviewed and validated, culminating into a few dozen technologies that were selected and moved into the manufacturing phase.

“To really underscore this, normally it takes five to six years to make it from your idea all the way out to that manufacturing, expansion and distributing of tens or hundreds of thousands of tests per day,” said Tromberg. “And we’ve tried to compress all of this into a five-to-six-month process.”

The RADx-Tech/ATP program borrowed the innovation funnel concept used by commercialization and tech programs throughout the country to evaluate the technologies and optimize their outcomes. The intent was to expand COVID-19 testing – including the types of testing technologies used, the number of tests produced, as well as testing access – with the ultimate goal of drastically increasing the number of COVID-19 tests available per day in the U.S.

While the program was fast-tracked in response to the pandemic, Tromberg is optimistic that this efficient, rapid development process will become the new standard.

“This has been kind of like the super bowl for our field,” said Tromberg. “We’ve dramatically expanded our budget, we will end up investing in new testing technologies over a billion dollars in an incredibly short period of time, and it’s helped us implement our vision for engineering the future of health.”

Find out more about UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s upcoming and past events.

Read full post on the UCI Beall Applied Innovation news blog.

Startups & Innovations: New Hires

By Jessie Yount, Orange County Business Journal

Modulim has named Charlie Huiner chief executive.

Huiner comes from the Irvine-based firm after nearly six years with Santa Barbara-based Sientra, Inc. (NASDAQ: SIEN), where he helped raise $375 million in equity financing including a successful IPO.

In his new role, Huiner will oversee Modulim’s Series C fundraising efforts and lead commercial strategy for its Clarifi imaging device, the company said.

“With Charlie’s experience and expertise, we are poised to build from a number of key milestones recently achieved by the Company to accelerate commercialization,” said Chief Technology Officer David Cuccia.

Modulim received CE Mark certification this month for its noninvasive, radiation-free imaging system, which produces images that resemble a thermal heat map.  Warmer colors signal better blood perfusion, while darker ones indicate low oxygenation.

The company’s product is largely focused on diagnosing and preventing the effects of diabetic foot ulcers.

Cuccia invented Modulim’s imaging technology at the UCI Beckman Laser Institute and introduced Clarifi to the U.S. market last fall.

The company has raised more than $21 million in public and private funds to date.

Read the full Orange County Business Journal article.

2021 SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship Awarded to Nitesh Katta

The annual award will support the development of Katta’s doctoral research, as well as his efforts to translate benchtop advancements into clinical successes

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA — SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, has announced Nitesh Katta, who received his PhD in 2019 from the University of Texas at Austin, as the winner of the 2021 SPIE-Franz Hillenkamp Postdoctoral Fellowship in Problem-Driven Biomedical Optics and Analytics. The annual award of $75,000 supports interdisciplinary problem-driven research and provides opportunities for translating new technologies into clinical practice for improving human health.

Katta’s research project, “A cold laser wire (CLW) for true-lumen crossing of tortuous coronary arteries with calcified chronic total occlusions (CTOs)” — conducted in conjunction with Thomas Milner and Marc Feldman at the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic — will build on a challenge Katta discovered during his doctoral work: in recognizing an unmet need for piercing calcified material in performing true-lumen percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) of chronic total occlusions (CTOs), Katta, together with his then-doctoral mentors Milner and Feldman, invented intravascular cooling and guidance methodologies for achieving true-lumen crossing in CTOs using the cold laser wire. Katta’s aim is to bring this research into the clinical setting, addressing an urgent clinical need of a tool for safe PCI in patients suffering with CTOs.

“I am deeply grateful to receive this support from such a distinguished organization as SPIE and feel very humbled to have the SPIE-Hillenkamp fellowship committee recognize the value of this work,” says Katta. “Receiving this award will enable me to conduct the necessary research work and translational training to bring a medical device from a laboratory bench-top to the market where it can have a meaningful impact on percutaneous coronary intervention outcomes in patients suffering from chronic total occlusions.”

“This is a very exciting proposal from an excellent researcher working in a renowned lab for innovative research in biomedical optics and biophotonics that translates into solving medical problems,” said the Co-Chairs of the Hillenkamp Fellowship Committee Rox Anderson and Gabriela Apiou. “Nitesh’s work has the potential to establish a new class of simple and safe methods to operate endovascular light-based therapeutic devices, and we look forward to seeing the outcome of his work.”

Honoring the career of medical laser pioneer Franz Hillenkamp, the SPIE-Hillenkamp Fellowship is a partnership between multiple international biomedical laboratories — the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, the Beckman Laser Institute, the Manstein Lab in the Cutaneous Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Medical Laser Center Lübeck, and Boston University — and the Hillenkamp family. The endowment is funded through generous donations from the biomedical optics community, with SPIE contributing matching funds up to $1.5 million.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves more than 258,000 constituents from 184 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2020, SPIE provided over $5.8 million in community support including scholarships and awards, outreach and advocacy programs, travel grants, public policy, and educational resources.

Read full SPIE press release.

Modulim Announces Seasoned Medical Device Executive Charles Huiner as Chief Executive Officer

Irvine, CA—Modulim, the global leader in optical imaging solutions for the non-invasive assessment of tissue and vascular health, today announced that Charles Huiner has been named President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Huiner will start immediately and lead the Company’s Series C fundraising and execution of a focused growth strategy for its FDA-cleared product, Clarifi®.

Huiner brings over 25 years of executive experience with a successful leadership track record across multiple life science market segments including biotech, medical devices, and digital health. Most recently, he served as Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Strategy for Sientra, Inc. (NASDAQ: SIEN), a global medical aesthetics company with annual revenues exceeding $80 million. While serving at Sientra, he authored the company’s growth strategy, led several key acquisitions, and helped execute $375 million in equity financing including a successful IPO. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at InTouch Health during a transformative period that solidified the company’s market strategy and commercial model, leading to its eventual $600 million exit to Teladoc Health. Previously, as Senior Director of Corporate Development and Strategy at INAMED, Inc. he was instrumental in broadening the company’s product portfolio that contributed to its $3.3 billion acquisition by Allergan Aesthetics.

“It’s fantastic to have Charlie on-board to lead Modulim’s next phase,” said David Cuccia, Modulim’s Founder, Board member and Chief Technology Officer. “With Charlie’s experience and expertise, we are poised to build from a number of key milestones recently achieved by the Company to accelerate commercialization. The whole executive team looks forward to working with him to enact Modulim’s mission—to deliver transformative optical solutions that help people live healthier, longer lives.”

“I am excited for the opportunity to lead Modulim’s talented team. The Company will play a significant role in the ongoing convergence of medical diagnostic, predictive AI, and telehealth technologies to enable more efficient healthcare delivery. Our decision support solutions are applicable to numerous ill-met chronic conditions and vascular complications, starting with helping healthcare providers prevent costly and often deadly undiagnosed conditions brought on by diabetes and peripheral arterial disease,” said Huiner. “I look forward to working with my new colleagues to accelerate the adoption and expansion of our proprietary SFDI technology while improving the lives of patients.”

“We are pleased to have attracted a high caliber, proven executive like Charlie to strengthen the Company and advance on early successes with strategic customers,” said Janelle Goulard, Partner at Pangaea Ventures. “Charlie brings extensive technology commercialization knowledge and experience at this dynamic period of growth for Modulim. We believe the Clarifi solution will positively impact millions that are living with chronic conditions.”

About Modulim
Modulim is a privately held medical device company founded by the inventors of SFDI at the University of California Irvine with a team dedicated to delivering powerful healthcare solutions that elevate and standardize health care delivery, while improving patient outcomes. Its mission is to deliver transformative optical solutions that help people live healthier, longer lives. Clarifi, powered by Spatial Frequency Domain Imaging (SFDI) technology, identifies compromised

Meet The World’s Newest – And Youngest – Self-Made Billionaire: Luminar’s Austin Russell

By Alan Ohnsman and Alexandra Sternlicht, Forbes

The race to commercialize self-driving car technology has attracted billions of dollars of investment but not created many billionaires. Luminar founder and CEO Austin Russell is among the rare exceptions. With today’s Nasdaq listing of the laser sensor company he founded at age 17, the optics prodigy is one of the first billionaires to emerge from the autonomous vehicle world–and the youngest self-made billionaire in the world.

“It’s been insanely intense, grueling … everything through every day that we’ve had to go through scaling this up. And of course it’s incredibly rewarding to have an opportunity to be able to get out there now and get into the public markets and scale through this IPO SPAC,” 25-year-old Russell tells Forbes in a video interview from his office in Palo Alto, California. “I’m still relatively young, but … a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into it. And I was fortunate enough to be able to retain a good enough stake.”

Good enough indeed. Russell’s 104.7 million shares, about a third of Luminar’s outstanding equity, is worth $2.4 billion at the start of Nasdaq trading today. The listing, announced in August, resulted from a merger with special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos, a unit of Beverly Hills-based finance firm The Gores Group, and raised Luminar’s estimated market value to $3.4 billion. Investors in the newly public company include fellow billionaire Peter Thiel (net worth: $4.6 billion), who helped get Russell started with Luminar by making him a Thiel Fellow in 2012; Volvo Cars Tech Fund; Alec Gores of The Gores Group, another billionaire ($2.2 billion) who is also a Luminar board member; and billionaire Dean Metropoulos, the company’s chairman.

Thiel, the Paypal cofounder who famously created a fellowship offering extraordinary young people $100,000 to drop out of college to pursue their dreams, has been an advisor to Russell since he left Stanford to start Luminar in 2012. As a mentor, Thiel is impressed not just by the new tech billionaire’s intellect, but his ability to hold onto a significant chunk of Luminar as it moved from Russell’s garage concept to Nasdaq.

“You can build a billion-dollar business but that does not mean you can become a billionaire,” says Thiel. “It’s remarkable from a financing perspective to retain a financial stake of that size.”

Russell, who’s also a Forbes 30 Under 30 alum from the class of 2018, isn’t looking to take on self-driving tech giants like Alphabet’s Waymo or GM-backed Cruise, but instead is perfecting sensors that help autonomous cars “see” their surroundings by bouncing a laser beam off objects in their path. Known as Lidar for “light detection and ranging,” the technology is fundamental for autonomous vehicles and Luminar is competing in that space with Velodyne, the early leader in lidar for autonomous vehicles, and newcomer Aeva, both of which are also going public via SPAC mergers. Russell has sold prototype sensors to major auto companies for the past few years, but more recently secured production orders from Volvo Cars, Daimler and Intel’s Mobileye that may ensure revenue growth for several years.

Luminar will likely post sales of just $15 million this year, but could generate at least $1.3 billion by 2026, based on estimates in an SEC filing.

Russell’s abilities extend beyond the lab to the boardroom, according to Alec Gores, who helped arrange Luminar’s listing. “When we were negotiating, he was so on the top of everything, the small details. 60-year-old guys who’ve been in the business for 40 years don’t understand this stuff, but he took time to study the SPAC,” he says. “I’m looking at this guy and saying, ‘you asked more questions than anybody I’ve seen that’s been doing this sh*t for a long time.’”

The lanky 6’4” Russell, with shaggy strawberry blonde hair and a light beard to match, was making notable achievements long before his new billionaire status. As the story goes, he memorized the periodic table of elements at 2 years old and rewired his Nintendo DS game console into a crude mobile phone when he was in the sixth grade after his parents forbade him from having one. At 13, he filed his first patent: an underground water recycling system that catches sprinkler water and saves it for future gardening to reduce wastewater. Rather than go to high school, he spent his teen years at the University of California, Irvine’s Beckman Laser Institute.

Next came admission to Stanford to study physics, but that didn’t last long. He dropped out midway through his freshman year after winning a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship stipend for his lidar concept, founding Luminar not long after obtaining his driver’s license.

Excluding inherited fortunes, Russell is ​one of about a dozen people on the planet to make a billion dollars before they turned 30.

Lidar was an early fixation for Russell as he believes it has the potential to save lives both as part of self-diving cars and as a component of advanced driver-assistance systems that Volvo and other carmakers are bringing to market in the next two to three years. As a teenager, he’d looked at what Velodyne and other companies were doing with laser sensors, but determined a completely different approach was needed to make them cheap enough to be ubiquitous.

“It should not be a 16- or 17-year-old, and then subsequently a 25-year-old that can build a business like this,” says Russell. “We’ve been able to accelerate this because no one has really done this before.”

It doesn’t hurt that Russell has zero distraction from social media or time-sucking general education requirements of college and high school degrees. Unlike most 25-year-olds, he has neither Twitter nor Instagram accounts, but confesses to learning most of what he knows about the world from avid Wikipedia and YouTube explainer consumption.

As a Gen Y billionaire, Russell is also thinking about his impact. Though he has no immediate plans for Gates-like philanthropy, he sees his contribution as eradicating automobile accidents. “When this becomes a new, modern safety technology on vehicles that’s integrated on every vehicle globally produced, that’s when I’d firmly say that we’ve accomplished the goals that we set.”

Read full “Forbes” article.

New chairs appointed for the Departments of Neurology, Pediatrics and Dermatology

Kristen M. Kelly, MD, has been appointed chair for the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine Department of Dermatology, effective September 6, 2020.

Kelly is a board-certified dermatologist with more than 25 years of experience using lasers to treat vascular birthmarks, scars and other dermatologic conditions. She is at the forefront of research in the treatment of vascular skin conditions, and contributes to the development and implementation of the latest energy based technologies, techniques and treatments in dermatology.

“I have always been impressed and drawn to the spirit of collaboration and innovation embodied by the UCI School of Medicine and the Beckman Laser Institute,” said Kelly. “At UCI, I can provide the best care for my patients and participate in cutting edge research that can positively impact both individual patients and the field of dermatology.”

Kelly has contributed to the work at the world-renowned UCI Health Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic in Irvine, California for over 20 years. She is also past president and board member of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery and has lectured locally, nationally and internationally on the treatment of vascular lesions and light based treatments and diagnostics in dermatology.

Kelly replaces UCI physician Christopher B. Zachary, MD, MBBS, FRCP, who stepped down from the position after serving 15 years as chair of the Department of Dermatology.

“Dr. Zachary grew the department in wonderful ways and I want to continue this positive trajectory, broadening our clinical outreach with additional patient care sites and expanding our research faculty, collaborations and grant funding,” said Kelly. “We also intend to work with the Children’s Hospital of Orange County to augment pediatric dermatology services. “

Kelly has worked as a dermatologist and professor at UCI School of Medicine for more than 20 years. During her tenure as program director, she augmented and expanded the dermatology residency program achieving full accreditation and built the program to a highly desired residency where the department receives over 400 applications for five slots each year.

“We have an outstanding residency program and we want to continue to attract the top applicants in the country and expand our residency and fellowship programs,” said Kelly. “We want to embody the UCI School of Medicine vision statement and be ‘powered by discovery, innovation and inclusive excellence’.”

Kelly has also been involved in the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery, serving as a past president and now secretary elect. She has also worked with the Sturge-Weber Foundation and The Vascular Birthmarks Foundation to augment education about birthmarks, support the most innovative research in this field and expand access to the best treatment options to all patients.

“I have been fortunate to collaborate with outstanding scientists at UCI and across the globe looking at methods to advance energy based treatments, augment removal of vascular birthmarks and develop non-invasive diagnostic imaging systems for cutaneous disease,” said Kelly.

Kelly received her medical degree from UCLA, and completed an internship in internal medicine from St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. She completed her residency in dermatology at UCI.

The UCI Department of Dermatology has experts in medical and surgical dermatology with specialty clinics in skin cancer, blistering diseases, pigmentary disorders, gynecologic dermatology, vascular birthmarks, hair disorders, complex medical dermatology, laser surgery, Mohs surgery and cosmetic dermatology.

Click here to read the full UCI School of Medicine article.

Transforming Human Health at the COSI Labs

By Sandra Flores, UCI Beall Applied Innovation
Photos: Julie Kennedy, UCI Beall Applied Innovation


Diseases are constantly evolving in our modern world, and with their evolution comes the need for new technology to combat them and sustain quality human health.

The Convergence Optical Sciences Initiative (COSI) labs, located in the Cove @ UCI, specializes in the creation, clinical translation and commercialization of trailblazing optics and photonic technologies to transform human health. The labs are prioritizing the  creation of laser technology that could benefit the health of those fighting chronic illnesses.

“Here at the labs, the main focus is the intersection of multiple areas such as physical science, biology, engineering, industry and medicine, all
around photonics,” said Chris Barty, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at the UCI School of Physical Sciences and senior faculty
member of the COSI labs.

One of the main activities Barty is currently spearheading is the Laser Compton X-ray, an X-ray machine that works similarly to a laser pointer and is highly tunable. The application of this extremely precise X-ray has the potential to revolutionize disease detection and treatment.

“If we do what we say we’re going to do correctly, you’ll never remove a breast, you’ll never remove a prostate again,” said Barty. “It’ll transform human health.”

Students pursuing UCI’s dual Ph.D./M.D. program study how to enable better medical applications, while Physics graduate students come up with new ways that could make the X-ray source even better. Since the pandemic, Barty and the COSI labs’ small team of graduate students are also working on a compact UVC laser that would be able to denature the virus on surfaces.

As the COSI labs move forward, Barty hopes to change the way medical professionals use X-rays and lasers, making UCI Beall Applied Innovation a hub for X-ray and laser technology for the Orange County ecosystem.

“I would be thrilled if we had an X-ray source sitting at Beall Applied Innovation that acts as a national center for advanced radiography and radiology,” said Barty. “Being a part of Applied Innovation makes it really easy to pursue this vision at UCI.”

Learn more about the COSI labs at

Read full article in UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s “Rising Tide” Magazine.

Samueli School Welcomes 12 New Faculty Members

By Anna Lynn Spitzer, UCI Samueli School of Engineering

Twelve new faculty – ranging from assistant professors to experienced professionals, including three who have been appointed research center directors – are joining the Samueli School of Engineering for the 2020-21 academic year. This brings the total number of full-time faculty to 162.


Thomas Milner
Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Surgery
Director, Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic

Milner, an early investigator in photomedicine, has made important contributions in both surgery and diagnostics, including development of novel optical tomographic imaging modalities and laser surgical procedures for diagnosis and treatment of disease. An inventor on 55 U.S. patents, as well as five international patents licensed to six companies, he has authored 190 peer-reviewed articles and eight book chapters. Milner, who came to UCI from University of Texas, Austin, where he was the Joe King Professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering, is the recipient of the Coherent Young Investigator Award in Biomedical Optics, the Inventor of the Year award at the UT Austin and numerous grants from the National Institutes of Health. He is a fellow of the American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the National Academy of Inventors.

Link: Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic

Liangzhong (Shawn) Xiang
Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering, and Radiological Sciences, School of Medicine

Research Interests: X-ray-induced acoustic computed tomography for in vivo radiation dosimetry and radiology, fast proton-induced acoustic imaging for precision proton therapy, and electroacoustic tomography-guided electroporation

Education: Ph.D., electrical engineering, South China Normal University

Xiang, who is affiliated with both the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic and the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, was the Lloyd G. and Joyce Austin Presidential (Assistant) Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma. He is a recipient of the student-nominated Nancy L. Mergler Faculty Mentor Award for Undergraduate Research, a research scholar award from the American Cancer Society, a postdoctoral fellowship award in prostate cancer research from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Sylvia Sorkin Greenfield Award for best paper published in medical physics from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. A former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, he is a member of the Acoustical Society of America, the Radiological Society of North America, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine and the International Society for Optical Engineering.

Link: TRUE Lab

Read full article on the UCI Samueli School of Engineering website.