By PJ Bellomo
This past May, Fort Detrick Alliance recognized Blue Sources with its inaugural Innovator of the Year award. A non-profit organization based in Frederick, MD, Fort Detrick Alliance pursues a mission that includes facilitating communication between Federal agencies at Fort Detrick and the local business community as well as serving as an advocate for “the important work done at Fort Detrick in the areas of cancer research, biological research and vaccine development, medical protection of the nation’s Armed Forces, and global communications.”
Blue Sources can trace its origins to Fort Detrick. The original idea for a fish biomonitor to detect acutely toxic chemicals in water stemmed from scientists working for the U.S. Army Center for Environment Health Research (USACEHR) at Fort Detrick. Over 20 years of research led these scientists to settle on Bluegills as the canary-in-a-coal-mine for water. After combining Bluegills’ natural detection abilities with some engineering innovations and a proprietary AI software model, USACEHR developed a first generation fish biomonitor with non-military applications.
Circa 2005 USACEHR launched the first generation (gen-1) biomonitor technology into production service at 10+ public water utilities as well as a wastewater facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground. For reasons related to defense industry consolidation and changes in priorities, further development stalled. Notwithstanding, with neither commercial support nor a product roadmap, most of the gen-1 production users kept the fish biomonitor running for over a decade because of the uncanny reliability of Bluegills as compared to manmade analytical monitoring devices.
In September 2014 Blue Sources encountered some of the Fort Detrick team at a tech transfer exhibition. By July 2015 Blue Sources signed a license agreement with the U.S. Army acquiring exclusive worldwide rights to five patents and related intellectual property. TEDCO funded Blue Sources with $100,000 from its seed fund in May 2017, which Blue Sources applied almost entirely to reengineering the decade-old biomonitor technology. In 2019 Blue Sources announced the launch of its new biomonitor, the BG-2, along with a monitoring-as-a-service, MaaS, subscription offering.
The Innovator of the Year Award from Fort Detrick Alliance comes on the heels of the FLC (Federal Lab Consortium) recognizing Blue Sources and the US Army for Excellence in Tech Transfer at its March 2019 annual meeting. For more information on Fort Detrick Alliance click here.
Trust the fish.
By PJ Bellomo
By way of an award for excellence in technology transfer, the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) recognized the US Army and Blue Sources for the mutually successful transition of aquatic biomonitoring technology. Working with David Trader, then serving in the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research, and Blake Sajonia of the Army’s Medical Research and Material Command, the Blue Sources team successfully obtained licensing rights for, and then breathed new life into, the Army’s patented fish biomonitor technology.
According to the FLC, the Excellence in Technology Transfer Award involves recognizing “ ... employees of FLC member laboratories and non-laboratory staff who have accomplished outstanding work in the process of transferring federally developed technology.” Since obtaining licensing rights, Blue Sources has reengineered the biomonitor technology based on feedback from production users of the Army’s first generation technology.
The technology update took some help. First, Blue Sources received funding from the TEDCO Seed Fund (click here for announcement). Then after searching across Maryland for an engineering design partner, we found ACDI in our own backyard. The know-how and dedication of Frederick-based ACDI engineers Bob DiDonato and Kevin Wilt resulted in the “BG-2,” an easier to maintain biomonitor with a smaller footprint.
When we asked Bob, ACDI’s Engineering Program Manager, about the redesign, he said, “The biomonitor redesign amounted to making a proven technology better. We applied modularization concepts to make the device more compact, maintenance-friendly, and easier to upgrade. We also replaced several obsolete components, selecting new parts with a minimum five years forecasted availability.” We thought our friends at ACDI delivered superlative engineering services, and so we partnered on a case study that you can read here.
Analogous to a canary-in-a-coal-mine, the BG-2 detects hazardous chemicals in water by monitoring the breathing of live fish, namely Bluegills. Based on scientific studies of Bluegills dating back 50 years, the biomonitor should detect over two thousand acutely toxic chemicals. With a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (aka CRADA) in place, Blue Sources continues to work with the U.S. Army to advance the technology and related monitoring services.
Trust the fish.
By PJ Bellomo
In 2014 my Co-founders, Terry and David, attended a technology transfer conference at a BWI airport hotel. On the exhibition floor Terry spotted the Fort Detrick booth. Raised in Frederick, MD, Terry had heard stories about the advanced research conducted at the local Fort Detrick army base. He had to stop by their booth.
As he approached, Terry couldn’t help but notice an unusual contraption with flowing water and live Bluegills. He then delivered lines that will go down in company history: “Hi, I’m Terry. What’s with the fish?”
Fast forward to Summer 2019. Our patented technology detects acutely toxic chemicals in water by monitoring the breathing of live fish. Think canary-in-a-coal-mine for drinking water and wastewater.
What did we do for four years? Analyzed the original US Army fish biomonitor and researched the broader water and wastewater safety device market. We also interviewed customers who operated the Army’s first generation biomonitors for over 10 years in production environments. Then we raised a little money, and based on user feedback, we designed and manufactured a second generation device as well as transformed to a service first offering.
Blue Sources has received some recognition this year for our biomonitor technology, including commitments which should result in our first paying customers during the second half of the year. As part of that progress, on Tuesday July 24th we announced the launch of our monitoring-as-a-service, MaaS™, offering (read about MaaS™ here on Yahoo Finance).
None of us Co-founders possess social media genes. But we’ve committed to a safe water mission, and we plan to get the word out. Expect to hear more from us here.
Trust the fish.