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MeasureNet Celebrates 10th Birthday in Student Labs Around the World

Robert Voorhees looks at a decade of success for a data system created in the Department of Chemistry.


Date: 2/27/2008
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Melanie Cannon
Tucked among the many displays at UC Showcase 2008 will be a birthday party of sorts, celebrating a physically small product with worldwide impact.

It was 10 years ago that the work of three members of the Department of Chemistry led to the development of the networked, PC-reducing electronic data collection system now known as MeasureNet. The award-winning, space- and energy-saving technology is used by around 10,000 students weekly at universities, community colleges and high schools, ranging from Walnut Hills High School and Colerain schools to Xavier, the University of Georgia, Virginia Tech and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Miami University is currently seeking funding to purchase MeasureNet.

Research Associate Robert Voorhees and Professor Estel Sprague of the Department of Chemistry use MeasureNet.


At Showcase, research associate Robert Voorhees and professor Estel Sprague will display a small MeasureNet setup, with two to three workstations where guests can do a hands-on experiment with the product.

MeasureNet Technology, formed by Sprague and Voorhees in 1998 to nationally market the technology, is a spin-off company that was the result of a research project conducted by the two men and Paul McKenzie, a co-worker of Voorhees' in the Department of Chemistry's electronics shop. McKenzie, along with Voorhees, came up with the networking concept.

Sprague was using a computer-based electronic data collection technology for an honors lab, and Voorhees asked if Sprague had considered putting that technology into the freshman lab program.

"He thought it would be expensive and space-prohibitive to put 100 PCs in a corrosive laboratory environment," says Voorhees.

That started the wheels turning, Voorhees recalls: "Estel wrote a few grants which received funding from the university, NSF and Procter & Gamble, and the rest is history."

Through MeasureNet, 12 workstations in a 24-student lab are hooked to a single computer. Students save and retrieve results of their work through a Web-based data storage system.

"This design only required only 10 PC's and 100 small foot print workstations (10 small workstations per PC)," Voorhees notes. "The original 100 workstations are still in the lab and the 10 PC's are ready to be replaced for the third time. Imagine the cost of replacing 100 PC's three times over the last 10 years. That was the motivation behind the design. Reduce the number of PC's due to cost restraints and occupy as little lab bench space as possible."

MeasureNet, Voorhees says, "prepares students for real-world employment and enabling hands-on research." That involves ongoing research, too.
"The most significant change in the development of the MeasureNet system has been in the software," he says. "Through the collaborative relationship with the Department of Chemistry and MeasureNet the software has evolved into our segment's first and only LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) system for the teaching lab. LIMS systems are commonplace in industrial research or commercial analysis, such as chemical, pharmaceutical or petrochemical companies."

The product technology offered by MeasureNet "allows college and high school students more time for laboratory data collection and analysis which should contribute importantly to increasing their knowledge in the chemical sciences," says Procter & Gamble's Nabil Y. Sakkab, senior vice president, research and development.

Charles Atwood of the University of Georgia says: "MeasureNet brings us finally into the 21st century. It allows students to perform experiments quickly and so far the results have been amazing. The effect has been so dramatic that our upper level classes must now modify their labs because students arrive in these classes overly prepared from their freshman chemistry experience."

Throughout the years, Voorhees stresses, UC and the Department of Chemistry have been firmly behind the MeasureNet team.

MeasureNet is used weekly by about 10,000 students.

"From the beginning we wanted this to be a partnership and that is what it has turned out to be," he says. "There have been four department chairs since we developed MeasureNet and all have been supportive of the project. We negotiated a fair license agreement with the University and the Intellectual Property Office has always worked with us. We continue to collaborate with the chemistry department in the development and testing of new software and probes that enhance the capability of the network."

MeasureNet is a source of great pride for Voorhees and it's practical, too.

"When you develop an invention like MeasureNet your passion makes you think, 'How could anyone not love this thing?'" he says. "When your customers call and tell you how your product has enhanced their lab programs not only from the instructor's perspective, but the students as well, there is no better feeling."

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