UT-Related Firm Will Market Disinfectant Technology

KNOXVILLE — A Knoxville-area startup company plans to market new weapons against harmful microbes using a unique technology developed at the University of Tennessee.

Atmospheric-Glow Technologies will use a new plasma technology to sterilize medical devices, decontaminate military equipment exposed to chemical and biological warfare, and clean air circulation systems, said Dr. Kim Kelly-Wintenberg, a UT microbiologist who is the firm’s president and chief operating officer.

“There’s a great need for new sterilization-decontamination technologies in health care,” Kelly-Wintenberg said. “Our technology can clean some surfaces that would be harmed by the heat or strong chemicals used in more common sterilization techniques.”

A-G Tech will hold an open house from 4 to 7 p.m., Sept. 22, in its headquarters at 2340 Stock Creek Blvd. in Rockford, Tenn., she said.

The firm is developing commercially-viable reactors that create a room-temperature, one-atmosphere, uniform-glow discharge plasma, she said. A plasma is a state of matter created when molecules of air are fragmented into positive and negative ions by an electrical charge.

Plasmas usually occur only at high temperatures and pressures, but Dr. Reece Roth, UT professor of electrical and computer engineering, invented a way to create plasma at normal temperatures and pressures. Roth and fellow UT researchers hold numerous patents on the technology.

The sterilization occurs when the charged particles break down the cell walls of microbes like E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, Kelly-Wintenberg said.

The firm’s plasma technology also can be applied to nonwoven fabrics to change their surface characteristics, Kelly-Wintenberg said. That process, developed in collaboration with UT’s Textiles and Nonwovens Development Center, enables dyes to stick more easily to textiles surfaces.

“A-G Tech is an example of how collaborative university research potentially can strengthen the surrounding community’s economy,” said Dr. Dwayne McCay, UT vice president for research and information technology.

Though it is independent, the new firm has strong university ties, Kelly-Wintenberg said. Other officers include: Dr. Suzanne South, a microbiologist and vice president for research and biodevelopment; Daniel Max Sherman, a physicist and vice president for research and development; and James Morrison, an electrical engineer. Roth and Dr. Tom Montie, a retired UT microbiologist, are consultants.

The Tennessee Center for Research and Development is providing significant startup support, Kelly-Wintenberg said. A-G Tech is licensing the technology from the UT Research Corp.