University recognizes 1997 patent recipients
By Susan Trulove
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 35 - July 16, 1998
Virginia Tech researchers earned more than 20 patents during 1997. Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP), Inc. has honored faculty and staff members and students still at the university who earned 17 of the patents awarded last year.
Five of the patents concerned materials advances.
Chemical engineering professor Donald Baird and his students have "made a 50-cents-per-pound plastic behave like a $10-per-pound plastic," Baird said. He and student Arindam Datta received a patent for a process that provides in-situ reinforcement of polymer melts using rod-like molecules called liquid crystalline polymers (LCP's). The result is improved stiffness, strength, and surface appearance of the in-situ composite with significantly lower amounts of the LCP, thereby reducing the cost of forming the composite. The property has been assigned to Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) to be marketed.
Seshu B. Desu, director of the Center for Advanced Ceramic Materials, and research colleagues Pradyot Agaskar of Mobil, Chien-Hsiung Peng of Wafer Tech, and Tian Shi of the University of Beijing, China, earned a patent for an improved silicon-based thin film for use in computer memory chips. This is a low-temperature process compared to the conventional processes and yields uniform high-quality films even on complicated shapes and at lower cost with negligible water content (or OH content). Then, Desu, Peng and then-graduate-assistant Jie Si received a patent for a fabrication process that solves the temperature-dependent di-electric breakdown problem of materials used in dynamic random-access-memory applications Si has since earned her master's degree and is working at Wafer Tech. The two patents have been licensed to Sharp.
Michael Furey, mechanical engineering professor, and Czeslaw Kajdas of the University of Poland received two patents for a new method of lubrication for ceramic materials. A thin film of lubricating molecules forms a polymer film directly on the surfaces of ceramic materials when subjected to such conditions as high temperature, pressure, and friction. One application would be the use of ceramic tools for machining and cutting. The technology may also allow the use of ceramic parts in engines. Virginia Tech researchers also received five patents in the life sciences:
Plant pathology, physiology and weed science faculty member Carole Cramer and research associate Deborah Weissenborn received two patents for gene-expression systems and products in plants and plant-cell cultures. The Virginia Tech researchers are engineering plants to produce pharmaceuticals. The patents are for a newly cloned segment of tomato DNA that regulates the activity of adjacent genes in transgenic plants. The promoter, activated by plant pathogens and by wounding, may enhance disease resistance, use of plants as bio-factories, and post-harvest accumulation of associated transgene products. This technology has been licensed to CropTech Development Corporation.
Chemistry Professor David Kingston and former research associates, Ashok Chaudhary and Milind Gharpure, and post-doctoral associate John Rimoldi, and Senior Research Scientist A.A. Leslie Gunatilka received two patents for methods for making 2-Debenzoyl and -2-Acyl Taxol Derivatives These patents cover the structure and synthesis of new Taxol analogs, which have improved in-vitro activity relative to Taxol itself.
Heather Wren, former research scientist with Virginia Tech's entomology department, received a patent for a combination of two materials that act in conjunction to inhibit vital physiological processes in insects. It is intended for use as a bait additive to control pest insects. The technology is licensed to Dominion BioSciences, Inc.
In other patents:
Human-factors engineer John Casali has invented a power drive and steering attachment for a standard wheelchair that can be attached and then detached from the framework of the wheelchair by the user, so that the chair can be folded and easily transported in an automobile. The attachment also allows the chair to be maneuvered in circumstances requiring a small turning area. The invention was assigned to the CIT.
Mechanical engineering faculty members Chris Fuller, Ricardo Burdisso, and Russell Thomas, along with Tadeusz M. Drzewiecki and John B. Niemczuk of Defense Research Technologies, Inc., received a patent for an "Acousto-fluidic driver for active control of turbofan engine noise." Reduction or cancellation of acoustic noise is achieved by providing an amplified, opposite version (mirror-image sound waves) of the noise. The invention is assigned to Defense Research Technologies, Inc. and VTIP. Burdisso, Fuller, mechanical engineering Department Head Walter F. O'Brien, Thomas, and Mary E. Dungan also received a patent for "Active control of aircraft engine inlet noise using compact sound sources and distributed error sensors." The fan noise from a turbofan engine is controlled by creating control-field sound sources as panels that are flush mounted inside the inlet duct to minimize the aerodynamic losses. The invention is assigned to VTIP and CIT.
Fred C. Lee, Virginia Power Electronics Center director and electrical engineering professor, and former graduate student Yimin Jiang, received a patent for novel zero-voltage transition circuits for boost rectifiers, such as are found in telecommunication power supplies, computer power supplies, and most modern off-line switched-mode rectifiers that take AC as input and provide various output voltages (DC or AC) to meet load requirements. Significant size, weight and cost reduction, as well as performance improvements can be achieved with these circuits. The patent has been assigned to both VTIP and the CIT.
Roe-Hoan Yoon, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Mineral Processing, and Cesar Indiongco Basilio, research scientist with the center, received a patent for a chemical-mechanical de-watering process for coal and other ores that requires little heat. Impurities are removed from coal using flotation technology, and coal is also transported using water. Then the water must be removed. In the process developed by Yoon and Basilio, small ore particulates are coated with an agent that makes them hydrophobic and then mechanically dried. The moisture content can easily be reduced to levels below 10 to 20 percent, and even below 5 percent. The process can also be used to de-water clays, sulfides, phosphorous compounds, minerals, metals, waste sludge, and other materials.
Virginia Tech graduate assistant Stephen Canfield, mechanical engineering faculty members Charles Reinholtz and Robert Salerno, and former student Anthony Ganino have developed a unique design for a robotic wrist (a spatial, parallel-architecture robotic carpal wrist. Called the "carpal wrist," it has an open cavity through the center so that cables, tubes, and electric connections can be placed safely inside the wrist, to convey paint if the wrist is used in spray painting, for example, or wire and shielding gas for welding applications. Just as the human wrist has eight carpal bones, the robotic carpal wrist has eight primary links or mechanical connections with joints at each end. The carpal wrist has a higher weight-bearing capacity, and is free from voids in the workspace where many other wrists are unable to reach. This allows the wrist to produce a full-range of desired motions.
Last year's patents also included one design patent. Michael Weber, a graduate student in architecture, designed a fiber-optic accent light which he originally called "phi lights" but now calls "phlights" (pronounced "flights"). "This is the first decorative lighting fixture designed specifically for fiber optics," he said. "Until now, fixtures have been retro-fitted to use fiber."
Phlights, which look bird- or plane-like, are made from glass fiber canes--a material that is produced at the intermediate stage of manufacturing communication fiber--before glass rods are pulled into miles-long tiny fibers, Weber said. "Phlights can be easily manufactured in low volume."
He says phlights will be available in a wide range of finishes and sizes, and will serve as the foundation for a line of fiber-optic lighting fixtures. Manufacture began this year; an example can be viewed at www.lightlyexpressed.com.
For more information and a list of intellectual properties available from VTIP, call Michael Martin, executive vice president of VTIP at 1-5393 or visit VTIP at www.vtip.org.