An engineer and a mathematician at West Virginia University claimed two of five awards presented Tuesday (Oct. 22) at the TechConnectWV Spirit of Innovation Awards Banquet.

Xingbo Liu, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was named the 2013 Innovator of the Year for his productivity in energy research and innovation, particularly in developing solid oxide fuel cell interconnect coatings and in improving the cells’ cathode performance, as well as for his research on superalloy castings used in advanced electric power systems and for a new program to develop advanced, utility-scale battery technologies.

Liu edged out 11 other nominees throughout the state for the award.

“Dr. Liu not only embodies the spirit of innovation himself, he imparts that spirit to others through his love of science, his dedication to its practical application and his devotion to research and teaching in the service of humanity,” said Trina Wafle, associate director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at WVU, who nominated him.

“I thank my wonderful research colleagues at WVU, at the National Energy Technology Laboratory and at Faraday Technology, Inc., and my graduate students who collaborate with me to create cleaner energy technologies,” said Liu. “It’s a great honor to be named TechConnect’s first Innovator of the Year.”

The StartUp Innovation of the Year award was presented to eTouchSciences of Grafton, led by Marjorie Darrah, associate professor of mathematics. Darrah helped develop software to help students with visual impairments learn science and math more effectively. The learning system, geared toward middle schoolers, uses haptics—communication in the form of touch—to add touch to science and math education.

“I am so thankful for all the people who worked together to achieve the dream of using haptic technology to provide fun and exciting lessons in math and science,” Darrah said. “Our products, which are engaging for all students, are also fully accessible to students who are blind or visually impaired. This award will help us spread the word about our company and its products to students and their teachers.”

Funding for the business startup came from a Small Business Innovation Research award from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. TechConnectWV is an economic development organization that promotes innovation and entrepreneurism throughout the state. The group held its Spirit of Innovation Awards in Morgantown to showcase successes in technology innovation in West Virginia.

“The 33 nominations received for this inaugural awards program demonstrate that in West Virginia, the innovation economy is not just a concept – it’s a reality,” said Anne Barth, executive director of TechConnectWV. “We were thrilled to honor all of them.”