John Sorochan University of Tennessee
John Sorochan, Ph.D.

Sorochan and Dickson receive UT Chancellor’s Innovation Fund Award

University of Tennessee (UT) Distinguished Professor John Sorochan, Ph.D., Turfgrass Science and Management, UT Institute of Agriculture (UTIA); and Kyley Dickson, Ph.D., researcher and co-director, UT Center for Athletic Field Safety, recently had their project selected for UT’s inaugural Chancellor’s Innovation Fund Award. They will receive $50,000 and the support they need to help move their technology from the lab toward the marketplace.

Sorochan and Dickson’s project is a testing device called fLEX, which measures the performance and playability of surfaces, typically sports surfaces. The device, which they conceived of together, is portable and can simulate the foot strike of an athlete ranging from 35 to 350 pounds doing a stopping or accelerating motion.

Testing focuses on three areas: the actual surface (natural grass, synthetic turf, etc.), the footwear, and the athlete (weight, sport, etc.) The funds awarded to Sorochan and Dickson will primarily be used for continued software and mechanical development of the current beta prototype.

Sorochan said that working at UTIA has provided him the freedom to explore creative research ideas. He added that their research and inventions have a real-world impact, contributing to improving the quality of playing surfaces and potentially improving athletes’ performance and safety.

“UTIA has been very supportive of our turfgrass research program, and this has allowed us to become recognized as one of the world leaders in all areas for turfgrass research — from weed science to sports turf to basic turfgrass pathology research, to name a few,” said Sorochan. “Being a Vol means being a team, and no one person is bigger than the program. The UT turf team works hard to represent as a team what we believe is best for the turfgrass program, department, institute, university, state, citizens and nation.”

The Chancellor’s Innovation Fund, which is administered by the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, is aimed at bolstering east Tennessee’s entrepreneurship pipeline and providing a pathway to commercialize technology for faculty.

“Translating the discoveries our faculty make into technology that works for people is one of the most visible ways we carry out our mission as a land-grant research university,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “I am proud of this initiative and the gaps it helps bridge. Without this kind of seed money, many high-tech ideas like these would never make it to the people who need them.”

Recipients were chosen through a rigorous process that included a pitch competition where they were asked to describe the benefits of their technology and how the funding would help propel their ideas to market.

Evaluations of the projects were based on their ability to address an unmet market need, the current state of technology, the proposed technology development plan and the funding’s impact on commercialization. UT Research Foundation supported the program by evaluating proposals and coaching participants.