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UW researcher named top innovator

Madison, Wis. - University of Wisconsin assistant professor Helen Blackwell is being honored by a national magazine as a top innovator for her work with bacteria and infections.

Technology Review Magazine, a publication out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recognized Blackwell as one of its top 35 innovators under 35 years of age.

Blackwell, an assistant professor of chemistry at UW-Madison, was honored for her work in studying the way bacteria communicate with each other to form "biofilms" which are a main cause of infection. Bacteria promote that growth through a technique called quorum sensing, sending messenger molecules to fellow cells.

In her research, Blackwell has screened hundreds of those molecules to attempt a "hijack" of the bacteria's communication system, finding 10 molecules which could be helpful in motivating the immune system or turning off the biofilm impulse. Her research team has experimented with microwave radiation to excite the production of the molecules, cutting the time from three days to 45 minutes.

According to the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry website, Blackwell holds a degree from Oberlin College and received a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. She has received awards from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the American Chemical Society and the National Science Foundation.
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The innovators list, published in the October 2005 issue of Technology Review, recognizes inventors and entrepreneurs who are setting the curve in fields such as chemistry, biology and electronic design. They are selected by a panel of judges from colleges such as Northwestern and Boston University, and companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

In addition to Blackwell, Technology Review recognized researchers such as Daniel Riskin, a resident at UCLA Medical Center and founder of the personal treatment supplier MedPacks; Samuel Madden, an MIT assistant professor who developed wireless sensor nets for gathering data; and Vladimir Aksyuk of Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs, who developed micromirrors to control lasers inside communications equipment.

The honorees will be recognized in an exhibit at the MIT Museum's Emerging Technologies Gallery, which will run until Oct. 21. During the Emerging Technologies Conference on Sept. 28, two honorees will be selected as Technology Review's Innovator of the Year and Humanitarian of the Year.

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