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Sensing Success: SenSevere develops sensor technology for use in harsh environments

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Jason Gu of SenSevere

By Jonathan Kersting, Associate Publisher

When Jason Gu was finishing his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University in material science engineering, he had no idea that his research could have viable market potential.

However, a chance run-in with friend Peter Foller to discuss his research in growing nanostructures made it apparent that there could be potential to create a toxic gas sensor for use in severe environments, such as heavy industry, chemical and power plants.

Gu explained that hydrogen is a byproduct of certain chemical processes that can cause explosions, but most sensors quickly corrode in these harsh environments. Gu discovered that his technology could withstand harsh conditions to make the ultimate sensor.

So Gu and Foller founded SenSevere in 2010 to commercialize the technology. Gu said Foller (who was Director of R&D at PPG Chemical and Optical) brought the industrial experience and connections needed to move the hydrogen sensor toward market reality.

SenSevere then pursued funding from the PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center to further develop and commercialize the product.

“Working with the Nano Center was great,” said Gu. “They provided excellent feedback on our research. It was nice to have them let you know that you were on the right track or the wrong track during the process. It provided a nice reality check for us. Working with the Nano Center also allowed SenSevere to buckle down and firmly focus on making the product market-ready.”

“SenSevere is a prime example of how development and execution of the technology prototype has led to securing next-stage engineering and funding investments,” Leoné Hermans Blackburn, Executive Director of the PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center, said. The PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center is instrumental, as it provides the structure, support and services to manage the high risk of innovation and technology developments.”

Today, SenSevere is in limited production of its hardware with TMG Electronics, right down the Allegheny River in Cheswick. Gu is excited that it is affordable to manufacture  SenSevere’s product right in its own backyard.

SenSevere is testing the sensor at a West Virginia chemical plant and plans a larger beta test later this year with a full commercial release.

Other new products are in the pipeline: a sensor for detecting bromide—a dangerous carcinogen—in water supplies for treatment plants and a new hydrogen sensor for energy generation facilities.

Gu is truly amazed at his transformation from researcher to entrepreneur. Hailing from the tech mecca of Palo Alto, Calif., Gu said Pittsburgh has been an amazing place to start a company.

“I could never get the face time in Palo Alto that I’ve gotten here in Pittsburgh,” he said. “It’s better to do a startup here. There is a lot of support.”

For more bytes of the Pittsburgh region’s tech sector visit


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