A coat of a different color

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A coat of a different color

UND's Brian Tande co-developed a UV-reflective paint for hunting decoys that is literally for the birds

A goose on the wing mostly doesn't see the decoys arrayed on the water by hopeful hunters. At least, it doesn't see them as real geese.

That's because most decoys traditionally are covered in paint that absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light. So birds, such as geese, don't see the decoy as anything more than an object on the water.

But Brian Tande, a University of North Dakota engineering faculty member and a couple of colleagues developed a paint that reflects UV light. A decoy covered in this stuff really sticks out as far as those geese are concerned.

"We developed an idea for coatings for decoys—waterfowl decoys, turkey decoys and fishing lures—as a product based on some interesting science that has shown that birds can see ultraviolet light," said Tande, who developed this business before coming to UND. "Humans can see light in the visible wavelengths, that is, from 400 to 700 nanometers, violet up to red. Birds can actually see ultraviolet, especially UV-A (which can cause sunburn and skin cancer)."

Their UV-reflective coating solves a problem: prior to 2005 all decoys absorbed UV and, therefore, didn't match the reflectance of actual waterfowl. Bird feathers strongly reflect UV (even though humans can't see it).

"My business partner—a coatings scientist and graduate of North Dakota State—put these pieces together," said Tande, who also is director of the Jodsaas Center for Engineering Leadership and Entrepreneurship in the UND College of Engineering & Mines. "He was the first person to connect the dots. He told me about this in fall 2005. So he, myself, and one other partner started this company. First, we did a proof of concept; we developed some UV imaging technology, and were able to demonstrate that waterfowl feathers reflect UV light, and that currently available decoys did not match that reflectance."

The groups that the trio contracted with to do the testing came back and said there was a huge difference between how snow geese reacted to decoys painted with their new product and how they reacted to regular decoys.

"Then we filed for a patent in 2006, launched our website, developed our brand, and started selling decoy paint online that I made in my basement," Tande said.

"We operated that way for about a year, then signed licensing agreements with a couple of different companies, including a company that has been making decoy paint for decades," Tande said. "We taught them how to make our paint and they've now incorporated our formulations into their coatings. The other company is one of the largest decoy manufacturers in the world. They now also use our technology for their decoys. In fact, a couple of years ago, they started a separate line of decoys that emphasizes the UV-reflective aspects."

Tande and his colleagues were awarded a patent for their special UV reflective coating in 2011, five years after the original application.

"That's my experience being an entrepreneur, what got me interested in getting involved with the Jodsaas Center, which aims to provide engineering students opportunities to develop skills beyond the traditional engineering curriculum," Tande said.

"We're not making the product in our basement any longer—my wife was rather annoyed with me when I was doing that," Tande said.

Tande and one of his original business partners now have their sights set on the health care market.

"Our next venture is based on a patent-pending coatings technology aimed at health care applications," Tande said.

Specifically, they're developing a product that will help hospitals and other health care facilities control hospital-acquired, or nosocomial, infections, such as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, also commonly called staph infections, which affect close to 2 million patients, killing 50,000 to 100,000 annually.

"These are infections that a patient did not bring into the hospital, but rather acquired while a patient (or visitor) in the hospital," Tande said. "We're working with several companies which are selling new devices to disinfect hospital rooms. It's a robot that is basically a portable UV lamp. You roll this into a vacated room, the machine is remotely turned on, and it irradiates the room with ultraviolet light for anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the room and the microbes you are targeting."

"What we discovered is that if you use our coatings technology, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to kill the infectious microbes by means of UV irradiation," Tande said.

In one particular case, for example, with C. difficile, what would normally take 45 minutes takes 9 minutes of UV irradiation; with MRSA, what would normally take you 25 min now takes you 5 min.

"That is a new product that we're just in the process of launching," Tande said. "I use it as a real-time case study when teaching students about entrepreneurship."

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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