$1 Million to Energize One Billion: 7 Questions for Dr. Alan Mantooth

Dr. Alan Mantooth, ARA Fellow and professor of electrical engineering at the University of Arkansas, is a man of many talents – and endeavors. As head of an award-winning, electronic research program at UA, Dr. Mantooth has founded three startup companies in Arkansas, contributing an estimated $4 billion to the state’s economy.

As president of the Power Electric Society (PELS), Dr. Mantooth is leading another high-stakes project: one that could bring reliable power to a billion energy-impoverished people worldwide.

IEEE Empower a Billion Lives and its $1,000,000 prize is meant to spur interdisciplinary innovation in the global community, and to develop and demonstrate solutions to provide power to impoverished regions of the world. We caught up with Dr. Mantooth to learn more about this intriguing initiative.

Q: “Empowering A Billions Lives” is a worldwide competition. Is there enough knowledge and talent in the state for an Arkansan-based team to compete for this $1M prize?

 [AM] Absolutely. In fact, the organizers at the PELS level specifically asked if we would have a team. To be clear though, the purse is $1M. There are 5 regional competitions and a global grand prize winner. The prize amounts are being finalized within the $1M purse. For example, maybe each region wins $150k, so that is $750k and the grand prize is another $250k on top, so that team wins $400k. We are still finalizing that particular detail.

 Q: Arkansas didn’t see statewide availability of electricity until as late as the 1950s. As users of plentiful, consistent energy, what are we taking for granted? 

[AM] First, a federal government that was committed to electrifying its population and setting up businesses to operate the grid – rural electric coops. These are non-profits that transformed rural America. Currently, they are leading the charge to bring broadband to rural America because others won’t and they own the poles to string it on!

Second, our way of life and standard of living is directly proportional to the availability of relatively inexpensive, reliable electric power. Take that away and see how life changes dramatically in a heartbeat.

Q: What alerted you to the plight of energy impoverished regions?

 [AM] That’s a hard question to answer. I guess I’ve been aware of it for a very long time, and I was even aware that some attempts were being made at various times to address the issue. What brought this to the point of taking action was when several in our professional Society made the commitment to utilize the things we do well as a Society and have them brought to bear on the problem. Examples include: technical expertise in the power electronics and energy field, running innovation competitions, vetting ideas through peer review, entrepreneurship related to our technologies, and organizing events to disseminate knowledge.

 Q: Are alternative energy sources, like wind and solar, the future to providing adequate power to energy impoverished regions? Or do we have to think beyond those boxes? 

 [AM] You have to think beyond those boxes. I believe that renewables is a big part of the solution, yes. But, again, we have to think beyond technology. We can probably mate technologies to regions of the world, but it has to be cost effective and the local population needs to be able to install and use it and make a business venture out of it for it to sustain. See my answers referring to the rural electric coops. They run themselves now, but they needed a kickstart.

Q: Is a $1M prize enough incentive to provide a solution to this problem, or is the challenge enough motivation? 

[AM] It’s not enough. We intend to run the competition every 2 years for several rounds. We feel that this first round may not produce solutions that adequately scale to hundreds of millions of people and more. We have to be open to that possibility anyway. So, we feel that by consistently continuing, we will get there. Further, we are attempting to define “earn outs” whereby winners that go forth with their efforts to scale, can receive additional awards as they scale. 

 Q: How common are these contests within the research and innovation community?

 [AM] We see business plan competitions that are technology-based all the time. That is actually the closest to what this is. But, PELS has run the International Future Energy Challenge (IFEC) since 2000 and it has led to three successful startup companies that have had a significant influence on the field of renewable energy. IFEC is more of a student-based technical challenge type of competition and is not business oriented. And yet, it still led to these ventures. This competition is focused on business models and technology combined to achieve scalable solutions.

Another example is the Google Little Box Challenge that PELS co-sponsored with Google in 2014.

Q: You and your team at the University of Arkansas are responsible for a number of electric innovations. Any chance that you lead a team to the $1M prize?

 [AM] Well, you never know! We’d want to partner with a company perhaps in a teaming situation, but there is a distinct possibility that we might take this on.



Dr. Alan Mantooth was named an Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow in 2015. He and his University of Arkansas research team have developed technologies designed to withstand extreme temperatures, such as those found in deep well drilling, vehicular engine compartments and even the International Space Station.

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Breakthrough: 3 Ways Liquid Biopsy Can Revolutionize Treatment for Lung Cancer

Each year, 215,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer. The epidemic is especially burdensome to Arkansas with death rates far higher than the national average. A lung biopsy – an invasive procedure needed to diagnose lung cancer – is both uncomfortable, risky for the patient, and expensive. But promising research conducted by in-state institutions is changing the game.

Through a partnership between UAMS, UA Little Rock, UAPB, UA, Arkansas Research Alliance, and the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), a new technique is being developed for diagnosing lung cancer – liquid biopsy. Unlike traditional biopsies, liquid biopsy is non-invasive, performed through a routine blood draw.

How does this pioneering medical research impact Arkansas? We’ll give you three reasons.

  1. A significant cut in medical costs. Nearly 2,800 Arkansans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. The average cost of a traditional lung biopsy is $3,700. A liquid biopsy, which is not a surgical procedure that requires anesthesia, is far less expensive.
  2. Treatment (and outcomes) will improve. Liquid biopsies grant caregivers the unique ability to regularly monitor a patient’s response to therapy. In addition, disease recurrence is detected much sooner by a liquid biopsy versus conventional medical imaging.
  3. Arkansas receives an economic shot in the arm. The state is just scratching the surface of medical innovation and drug discovery, a multi-billion dollar industry. Innovations like liquid biopsy position Arkansas as an emerging med-tech hot spot.

Arkansas Research Alliance collaborates closely with in-state research institutions like UAMS, NCTR and the state’s other research universities so that science is allowed to flourish. Supporting research like liquid biopsy is crucial to Arkansas’ economy, reputation and health.

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Arkansas State University pays a visit to NCTR

On February 5, a research contingent from Arkansas State University dropped in for an official visit to the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR). Located in Jefferson County, AR, NCTR is the only FDA center located outside of Washington D.C, playing a critical role in the missions of FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to promote and protect public health.

Dr. Angel Paredes demonstrates one of five electron microscopes used at NCTR.

Visiting from A-State was Dr. Mohammad Abrar Alam, assistant professor of chemistry and Dr. Jonathan Merten, assistant professor of chemistry. The two professors wished to foster valuable collaboration between Arkansas State’s research programs and the host of resources available at NCTR.

Arkansas Research Alliance works diligently to facilitate meaningful collaborations between the state’s scientists, research facilities and government agencies. ARA’s efforts not only strengthen the state’s scientific profile, but helps to aid Arkansas’ economy through innovation and talent retention. Keep updated on ARA projects by joining our LinkedIN page.


If you would like to contact this core facility, please fill out the "Facility Contact Form" on the right of this page. This contact method helps ARA measure the success of the CFE in connecting potential collaborators and will flow directly to the core director’s email inbox.