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Campus Joe

“Campus Joe” is a biweekly column from Oracle columnist Joe Polito that explores random spots on USF’s campus. How does it work? Polito throws a dart at a large map and goes there to find a story.

This week’s location isn’t frequented by the undergraduate population — instead, it brings USF resources to local technology businesses in the Tampa Bay area.

The USF Research Park is located on the south side of campus and is home to the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator — also known as “USF Connect.”

According to its website, the business incubator has provided assistance to more than 40 companies that have earned more than $5 million in annual revenue. The facility has also allowed for more than 100 partnerships with faculty members at USF.

Walking up to the L-shaped structure, I could see signs for many scientific-sounding businesses.

NovaRay Solar LLC offers environmentally responsible energy products. Rehab Ideas applies science to increased independence for the disabled.

Then, there is Draper Laboratory, which has offices that resemble some kind of comic villain’s secret headquarters. The non-profit engineering laboratory develops military technology across several fields.

Draper’s brochure states its systems “meet the needs of irregular warfare and global access mission sectors.” The research done at USF focuses on microelectronics, but the “D” in their company logo has a target in it. I’m just saying.

A massive hall connects two buildings — one led to a four-story white building, the other to a three-story red and white building. It seemed less likely that I would be kidnapped and used for scientific experimentation in the building that looked like pasta and red sauce, so I went there first.

As I walked in, I noted a wall lined with dozens of golden plaques that represented inventions patented at USF.

Meghan Wilhelmsen, a senior majoring in exercise science, said she was covering the lunch shift at the front desk and usually works for the USF division of Patents and Licensing.

“Anyone affiliated with USF can patent their invention here,” she said.

A glass case displayed notable items researched and patented at USF. Items on display included an ergonomic steering wheel, a USF magazine article about an off-road wheelchair and a “self-heating pocket bath” that offers washcloths that warm themselves.

Behind the reception area was one of the several offices of the U.S.’s second youngest senator, George LeMieux. The senator was not around to talk, unfortunately, so I headed to the other side of the large hall to explore the second, more intimidating building.

The first floor housed a pair of elevators and a few rooms locked with security badge sensors mounted on the wall. They lit up red, which seemed to scream, “Get out of here, you silly journalist.”

Still, I continued to the second floor, where there were a few conference rooms to one side and the other side was blocked off for construction.

The third floor was far more accessible, and I walked through an unlocked door down a long hallway lined with laboratories.

I peeked in the windows of the mostly unoccupied lab doors. A few had one or two individuals in white coats tinkering under a microscope. The  rooms  contained machinery I could not distinguish and metallic canisters with nitrogen and other chemicals.

Things got weird when I tried to go to the fourth floor. I got in the elevator and pressed the number four. It lit up, but only for a few seconds.

I pressed it three more times, and the elevator remained still. There was another red-lit security pad next to the numbers, which told me that the fourth floor was off-limits to wandering reporters.

I walked back into the main hallway, going over a few conspiracy theories about what they were hiding on the fourth floor. There, I caught up with Rod Casto, vice president for research and executive director of the USF Research Foundation.

“We’re trying to get scientific research out of the ivory towers and down into the heart of business,” Casto said. “USF students can work on projects within the different companies for workplace experience, and several have gotten paid positions.”

Eduardo Murphy, a graduate student working on research, was nice enough to talk on his lunch break outside.

Born in Mexico, Murphy is working toward his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and said his group is working with tiny nanosilica wires in a glucose biosensor — which can be used to monitor blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

“These wires are good to electrically conduct the energy, and they are small enough — when you are talking about ‘nano,’ you are talking about one billionth of a meter,” he said. “We are integrating the electrical field into the field of biomedicine.”