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DCC Nanotechnology Student Helps Formulate Patent For Synthetic Crab Bait


Lee Robertson and Jerry Franklin

Lee Robertson (left), a Danville Community College student pursuing an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Nanotechnology Technician, discusses the possibilities in the field of nanotechnology with Jerry Franklin, Director of Manufacturing and Technical Services. Robertson is holding a model of a nanoparticle, C-60 fullerene. He is working with two adjunct professors in nanotechnology to formulate a synthetic crab bait product for use by commercial fishermen.

DANVILLE, Va., September 9, 2014 -- Nanotechnology is the new frontier of scientific discovery. And formulating a patent for a new product using nanotechnology is the sort of thing that you would expect a scientist with a Ph.D. and years of experience might accomplish.

In this case, it’s a Danville Community College (DCC) student, Lee Robertson, who is pursuing his Associate of Applied Science Degree in Nanotechnology Technician, and working toward an accomplishment of that caliber. Robertson spent his summer in Dr. Christopher Kepley’s lab testing and perfecting a formula for synthetic bait for crab and lobster fishermen while taking a nanotechnology class taught by Anthony Dellinger at DCC’s Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training (RCATT). Jerry Franklin, DCC’s director of manufacturing and technical services, facilitated the nanotechnology degree program through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Lee is a perfect example of the kind of student we were hoping to attract when we put the program together,? Franklin said. “Also, our adjunct faculty, Dr. Chris Kepley and Anthony Dellinger, have been instrumental in showing our students how nanotechnology is used in the commercial world to make useful products. Sharing their commercial research with our students has been invaluable.?

“It (science and product development) seems to be about searching for a solution, finding one, and then improving it until it might not even resemble the original solution at all,? Robertson said. “It has been a very rewarding experience, especially when the data shows that the product is working.?

After much trial and error, he almost has the synthetic bait formula down to a science - nanoscience that is. Robertson said the actual sustainable bait product resembles, and is about the size of a bar of soap, but the nanoparticles contained in the product are the key ingredients.

“We’ve identified the chemicals that are given off from rotting flesh and we put them into dissolvable bait. We can control how fast or slow it dissolves in saltwater,? said Kepley, founder/ president of the company Crushtacean (pronounced CRUSH tacean).

Dellinger, the CEO of Crushtacean, explained that controlling the rate at which bait dissolves is something baits currently on the market don’t offer.

“We’re able to tune it to what the fishermen need. It gives them a little more flexibility,? Dellinger noted.

When the bait products hit the market, they will be the first of their kind to be used by commercial fishermen, on a national and global level.

“The problem lies in the fact that the fish that are traditionally used as bait in crustacean traps are being over-harvested due to a high demand for fish oil and Omega-3 products. This spike in demand and decline in population of the fish has caused the price to spike hurting the profitability for crustacean fishermen,? Robertson explained. “Our product is being designed to use synthetic, easily obtainable, and renewable materials that will replace the need for bait fish by being both more affordable and more convenient. “

The next leg in the Robertson, Kepley and Dellinger journey of scientific exploration is to finalize the product formulation through more research and development and begin to market and sell the baits to fishermen. Fishermen have volunteered to test the synthetic bait product, and the results are encouraging. Kepley said a crab fisherman in Kitty Hawk, N.C. has been testing the bait and in the last test, the fisherman caught the same number of crabs with the sustainable bait product as traditional fish bait.

The new bait product also will save fishermen the unpleasant task of slicing open fish and the task of keeping the bait fresh during their fishing expedition. Furthermore, Robertson noted that the product is “green.?

“We want something that’s sustainable, something that we can reproduce without any sort of carbon footprint on the environment,? Robertson said.

“The bait doesn’t use anything from the ocean. It doesn’t use any of the components of it. It’s just using chemical cues to attract the fish,? Dellinger explained. “It’s keeping the (saltwater) ecosystem intact.? The new bait will prevent billions of fish being taken out of the ecosystem for use as bait as well as prevent the unintended catching of non-fish species such as dolphin, seals, and sea turtles that get mangled in the fishermen’s nets.

One of the goals of Dellinger’s nanotechnology class was to create students to be successful outside the classroom, and not to place limits on their ideas. At least one of his students, Robertson, became a scientist and an entrepreneur while mastering the nanotechnology coursework.

“Lee was a great student and he’s going to get an ‘A’ in the class; but he’s going to have something that’s going to last much longer than a summer semester class at DCC,? Dellinger said.

Robertson also will be involved in the new business and play a role in developing the formulation of the new products that he believes has the “potential to revolutionize? the commercial fishing industry.
Robertson is set to graduate from DCC in December, but his exploration in the field of nanoscience won’t end when he receives his associate degree. He foresees nanoscience as having a major impact on the future world, and wants to be a part of that.

“Everything’s going to continue to get smaller and smaller as we go,? Robertson added. “This particular field, especially in manufacturing and bioscience, is limitless. It’s going to pretty much envelop our world as things go forward.?

Dellinger encourages other community college students to think big, like Robertson.

“This is a prime time to be an entrepreneur,? Dellinger said. “Young minds do not have limitations.?


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