Virginia Tech Patents Range from Anti-HIV Gel to
Children's Book Bag
Virginia Tech researchers received
24 patents in 2003, including a gel that will allow women to discreetly control
their fertility and reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted
Faculty members, staff, and students who earned the patents will be honored by
the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. (VTIP). Mike
Martin of Blacksburg, VTIP executive vice president, said, "These patents
represent a significant resource for economic development."
Patents were awarded for power electronics for fuel cells and computers, new
materials, sensors, a method for drying wood; plant varieties, and human
health-related discoveries, including a spermicide that also prevents disease.
Carvel Holton of Blacksburg, a senior research associate in electrical
engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, received three
patents for sensors.
6,534,977 for " Methods and apparatus for optically measuring polarization
rotation of optical wavefronts using rare earth iron garnets," was awarded to
Paul Duncan of Airak in Vienna, Va., Holton, and Richard O. Claus of Blacksburg,
the Lewis A. Hester Professor of Electrical Engineering in the College of
Engineering at Virginia Tech. The invention is a fiber-optic and thin-film based
sensor for measuring magnetic fields, electrical current, or temperature
fluctuations. It is more sensitive and easier to use than present technology
used by the military, power companies, and the motor control industry. It is
also smaller due to the small size of the optical fiber. It is inert, which
allows use in potentially explosive environments. And it can be remotely
positioned from the signal processing equipment. The technology has been
licensed by Airak.
Holton received patent 6,608,669 for a "Quadrature processed LIDAR (light
detection and ranging) system," an optical system for transmitting a laser
signal to an object and receiving a Doppler frequency-shifted signal from the
object for velocity measurement purposes. Applications include vibration
sensing, turbulence sensing, and velocity LIDARs, such as police radar, relative
motion sensing, optical air data systems, or any type of linear velocity,
tangential velocity, or spin sensing.
Holton's third patent is 6,621,561 for a "Doppler rotational velocity sensor."
Present technology for measuring the rotational velocity of an object often
requires contact with the surface of the object, or is restricted in the size of
the rotating plane. Holton's sensor uses a beam of light to determine
translational velocity and rotational velocity simultaneously, and is compact
and cost effective. Applications include sensing the speed of platforms and
objects, volumetric/fluidic flow sensing, vibration monitoring, and range to
target and other related standoff sensing applications where rotation of the
object is to be measured, such as the revolutions per minute of a motor or
Power electronics and controls
Two patents were awarded to researchers in the Center for Power Electronic
Systems at Virginia Tech " one that will speed the transition to fuel cell power
systems and one that improves the efficiency of computers.
Lizhi Zhu of Westland, Mich., a scientist with Ballard Power Systems; Jin-Sheng
Lai of Blacksburg, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering
(ECE) in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech; and Fred C. Lee of
Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of ECE at Virginia Tech, received
patent 6,587,356 for a "Start-up circuit and control for high power isolated
boost DC/DC converters." The technology solves a problem with a transition
between power sources in electric or hybrid electric/fuel-cell engines. Such
engines have dual-voltage power systems — 12-volt systems for lights, sensors,
and controllers and higher (usually 300 v) systems for the traction inverter and
motor. Energy transfer between the two voltage systems requires an effective
bi-directional DC/DC converter. The present technology is subject to energy
current spikes when transferring the energy from low-voltage DC to high-voltage
DC, which is hard on the switches. Also, the transition from low to high voltage
can fail to meet start-up needs. The patented technology provides a system to
build up voltage for start up and equalizes input and output voltages. Since the
patented converter also eliminates the need to match characteristics of multiple
controllers, it significantly reduces the cost associated with implementing this
type of technology.
Xunwei Zhou of Fremont, Calif., who received his Ph.D. in electrical and
computer engineering from Virginia Tech in 1999 and is now at is now at Linear
Technology in Milpitas, Calif., and Fred Lee, received patent 6,590,791 for a
"High input voltage, high efficiency, fast transient voltage regulator module (VRM)."
The technology was the subject of Zhou's Ph.D. research. He explained in his
dissertation that to meet demands for faster and more efficient data processing,
modern microprocessors are being designed to operate on lower voltage.
Therefore, microprocessors need aggressive power management, special power
supplies, and VRMs that provide lower voltages with higher currents and fast
transient capabilities. The patented technology provides high efficiency and
fast transient-response for data processing, communication, and portable
applications or other low voltage, high current load applications. And it is
cost effective. The patent has been licensed to Delta and National
Newly patented control systems will improve the loading and unloading of
shipboard cargo and dampen vibrations in panels in many environments.
Ali Hasan Nayfeh of Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of
engineering science and mechanics (ESM) in the College of Engineering at
Virginia Tech; Dean Tritschler Mook of Blacksburg, ESM professor emeritus; Ryan
James Henry of Annapolis, of Northrup Grumman; and Ziyad Nayif Masoud of
Blacksburg, ESM assistant professor, received patent 6,631,300 for "Nonlinear
active control of dynamical systems." Cargo oscillation control is necessary for
safe and fast crane operations. For trans-oceanic transportation, container
ships are one of the most cost-effective manners of shipping cargo. However,
many localities do not have large ports or proper facilities to load and unload
cargo. A crane ship is used to transfer the cargo from large container ships to
smaller ships that can reach a particular port. The wave-induced motion of the
crane ship can produce large oscillations of the hoisted cargo, halting
operations. The invention is a feedback control system for reducing oscillations
of payloads on cranes mounted on moving platforms, such as ships and barges, and
truck-mounted cranes, as well as other crane systems. The control system
calculates and adds small correction signals to the operator inputs, based on
the payload oscillations and the motion of the platform.
Francesco dell'Isola of Rome, a professor at the UniversitĂ di Roma, Italy, and
an adjunct professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech;
Stefano Vidoli of Fregene, also a professor at the UniversitĂ di Roma; and
Edmund Henneke II of Blacksburg, associate dean for research and graduate
studies in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, received U.S. patent
6,546,316 for a "Two dimensional network of actuators for the control of damping
vibrations." Control of vibrations of structural panels is a major issue,
particularly in the automobile and aerospace industries. Recent developments in
piezoelectric (PZT) actuator technology have made conceivable the use of such
actuators for damping and control of mechanical structural vibrations. However,
prior use of these devices required high input power in concentrated zones,
optimal location of both actuators and sensors, and a control algorithm that
coordinated the actuator actions in response to the input from the sensors. The
invention provides an interconnected distributed network of actuator devices for
the control of damping vibrations in two-dimensional mechanical structures. The
patented system exploits an interconnection among actuators to form a continuous
electric network. The system dampens vibration 10-times faster than single
actuators over a broader frequency range, requires lower performances of the
actuators, and does not require an external power supply, since it can transform
mechanical energy to electrical energy.
Virginia Tech researchers have developed a new membrane for separation of
hydrogen, for use in fuel cells; a protective coating for glass and metals; a
process for nano-scale lithography; a new method for preparing high molecular
weight, easily processed polyimides; polymers for optical and ophthalmic parts
that can be injection molded; and an easy method to determine the properties of
S. Ted Oyama of Blacksburg, the Fred W. Bull Professor of Chemical Engineering
in the College of Engineering and director of the Environmental Catalysis and
Nanomaterials Laboratory at Virginia Tech, and Anil K. Prabhu of West Palm
Beach, Fla., who received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech,
received patent 6,527,833 for a "Hydrogen-selective silica based membrane." The
patent is the first of a series of patents that describes a new type of
inorganic membrane that is used for the separation of hydrogen from other gases.
It is unique in having both very high permeability and selectivity. The membrane
has applications in the production of hydrogen for chemical and fuel uses, in
particular for fuel cells. The patent has been licensed to ConocoPhillips, which
is developing the technology for commercial use.
Garth Wilkes of Blacksburg, professor emeritus of chemical engineering,
Chenghong Li, who received his master's and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry in the
College of Science from Virginia Tech and now works at Corning in Wilmington,
N.C. received patent 6,506,921 for "Amine compounds and curable compositions
derived there from." The patent deals with new chemical formulations for
developing clear, hard, protective coatings for plastics and metals. "These
coatings provide abrasion and scratch resistance," Wilkes said.
In Kyeong Yoo of Yongin, Korea, who received his Ph.D. in 1990 from Virginia
Tech in material engineering science and was a research scientist in the College
of Engineering until 1993, received patent 6,566,666 for a "Method and apparatus
for pyroelectric lithography using patterned emitter." The apparatus allows
electron emission suitable for nano-scale lithography. A pyroelectric emitter is
patterned using a mask. Electrons are emitted only from the exposed part of the
emitter so that the pattern is projected onto a substrate. To prevent
dispersion, the electron beams are controlled using a magnet or a projection
system. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has an exclusive license for this
James McGrath of Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in
the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and colleagues received two patents.
McGrath and Sue Mecham of Blacksburg, now at Polymer Solutions of Blacksburg,
received patent 6,569,984 for a "Method for making polyimide." Polyimides are
used in flexible printed circuit boards, adhesives, and matrix resins for
composites, films, and coatings. The invention is a new method for preparing
high molecular weight, easily processed polyimides, resulting in the control of
such properties as the glass transition temperature, solubility, and melt
H.K. Shobha, former Virginia Tech postdoctoral associate who is now a consulting
process engineer at IBM T.J.Watson Research Center at Yorktown Heights, NY;
Venkat Sekharipuram, who received his Ph.D. in 1994 in chemistry from Virginia
Tech and is now at Johnson & Johnson in Roanoke, Va.; McGrath; and Atul
Bhatnagar, now at Solvay Advanced Polymers of Alpharetta, Ga., received patent
6,653,439 for "High refractive index thermoplastic polyphosphonates." These
polymers are particularly useful for optical and ophthalmic parts, such as
lenses. A method of preparing optical and ophthalmic lenses by injection molding
these polymers into the form of the lenses is also provided. The patent was
assigned to Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., and to
David Dillard of Blacksburg, director of the Center for Adhesive and Sealant
Science and professor of engineering science and mechanics in the College of
Engineering at Virginia Tech; former Virginia Tech researchers Didier Lefebvre
of Mundelein, IL., now at Abbott Labs, Chicago, and Jang-Horng Yu received
patent 6,578,431 for a "Method and apparatus for determining bulk material
properties of elastomeric materials." Elastomers and gel-like polymers are
widely used as sealants, damping materials, sensor components, or structural
elements. The mechanical design and application of an elastomeric material often
depend on its bulk material properties, but the experimental determination of
these properties is a delicate and difficult task. Accuracy typically requires
expensive instrumentation and the experimental procedures are prone to error.
The patent is for a method and apparatus that provides improved accuracy and
reproducibility for measuring the bulk material properties of an elastomeric
material. The patented technique will provide crucial experimental data for
designers and engineers who use gel-like polymers or elastomers as their
structural components or sensing materials. The technique offers easier sample
preparation and data acquisition. And the device uses inexpensive, commercially
Prashant Savle, a former Virginia Tech research scientist now at Avecia in
Wilmington, Del.; Virginia Tech Chemistry Professor Richard Gandour of
Blacksburg; and Gustavo Doncel of the Contraceptive Research and Development
(CONRAD) Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School have received patent
6,656,936 for "Carnitine Analogues as Topical Microbicidal Spermicides." The
product can be used to coat vaginal contraceptive devices, such as diaphragm,
cervical cap, sponge, and condoms, "but the goal was to develop a product for
topical application for use by women who are in circumstances or cultures where
they can't insist upon or do not have access to other forms of birth control or
prevention against STDs," said Doncel. The U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) supported the research.
Gandour became aware of carnitine, a muscle chemical, when he was doing research
to develop medicines for non-insulin dependent diabetes. "We made this analog
and, from its chemical structure, knew it could be a spermicide," but it was
expensive and tedious to prepare from the natural product, (R)-carnitine,
Gandour said. "Dr. Savle designed and executed the brilliant synthesis from
inexpensive, synthetic compounds and asked Dr. Doncel to test the compound,"
"The idea was to make a product that would be cheap enough for the USAID to be
able to purchase for free distribution," said Savle.
Kensa Inc. of Ithaca, N.Y. licensed the technology. They have been developing it
as a preservative for consumer products, primarily cosmetics, and are marketing
it through Viral Therapeutics Inc. as Vagiprev (http://www.viral-therapeutics.com/BioPharma/biopharma.html),
with spermicidal, anti-STD and anti-fungal (yeast) activity to combat HIV,
Chlamydia, Candida, and other infectious agents.
Other health-related patents include a method for introducing toxins to cancer
cells and a method for creating human proteins, for pharmaceutical purposes, in
the milk of transgenic animals.
Brian Storrie of Little Rock, Ark., former professor of biochemistry at Virginia
Tech and now professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the
University of Arkansas Medical School; Maria Teresa Tarrago-Trani of Blacksburg,
Virginia Tech research scientist; and Sam English of Roanoke, research projects
manager at Carilion Biomedical Institute, received patent 6,631,283 for
"B/B-like fragment targeting for the purposes of photodynamic therapy and
medical imaging." The invention is a method of delivering a photoactive drug to
cancer cells by attaching the drug to a toxin that recognizes a specific
receptor on cancer cells. The researchers identified a non-toxic subunit of a
protein produced by E. coli bacteria as the vehicle to deliver the drugs because
it binds to the cancer cell and causes it to ingest the entire toxic package.
The toxin-photoactive drug conjugate can be activated by light to kill the
cancer cell without causing damage to healthy tissue. The method can also be
used to attach "visualizing" agents to cancer cells for use with imaging
technology, such as a CT Scan or X-ray, to aid in cancer diagnosis, assessment
of metastasis, or during surgery.
Henryk Lubon of Rockville, Md. (deceased) and William N. Drohan of Springfield,
Va., both formerly of the American National Red Cross, and William H. Velander,
a former Virginia Tech professor of chemical engineering who now chairs the
chemical engineering department at the University of Nebraska, received patent
6,518,482 for "Transgenic non-human mammals expressing human coagulation factor
VIII and von Willebrand factor." The invention is a process for the production
of clinically useful quantities of human factor VIII (F8) protein in the milk of
transgenic animals. F8 is a critical component of the cascade of coagulation
reactions that lead to blood clotting and is deficient in patients having
hemophilia A, the most common form of hemophilia in males. Concurrent expression
of a gene for human von Willebrand's Factor into milk may be used to stabilize
newly secreted F8 and also to treat the leading cause of hemophilia in females.
The patent was assigned to the American National Red Cross and VTIP. It is
licensed by ProGenetics LLC.
Mitzi Vernon of Christiansburg, associate professor of industrial design in the
College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, and Tanya Blasko,
who received her master's degree in industrial design in 2002 and is now with
Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati, received design patent D469,605, for a book
bag for children that allows them to read books while traveling. (Photos are
available at http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/photos/read_a_bag.jpg - 88 KB,
http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/photos/readinbagLARGE.JPG - 436 KB, and
http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/photos/closedbag.jpg - 304 KB) "It has a
detachable wallet that holds the book itself. A book can be read without
removing it, and kids can have multiple wallets with different books in them,"
said Vernon, who also designed the books as part of her National Science
Foundation-funded interCONNECTIONSÂ® project. She created a book series to help
middle school girls connect to abstract phenomena at an early age, thus allowing
them more accessibility and comfort in scientific and engineering fields. "The
books explain abstract concepts, such as magnetic fields, through metaphor and
imagery, which is more familiar to children," Vernon said. The books and book
bag are marketed by Vernon's company, Off-The-Page worksÂ®, Inc. (http://www.otpw.com).
University researchers received plant protection patents for a delicious new
blackberry, several productive varieties of wheat, and Virginia Tech's first new
barley in several years.
A team of researchers from three states were awarded patent PP13,878 for a new
blackberry cultivar named 'Chesapeake', which produces very large fruit in the
spring midseason. The berries are also very flavorful, even when the fruit is
immature. Chesapeake was developed by Harry Jan Swartz of Laurel, Md., small
fruits breeder at the University of Maryland, College Park; Joseph Fiola of
Keedysville, Md., small fruits specialist at the University of Maryland's
Western Maryland Research and Education Center; the late Herbert Stiles, of
Blackstone, Va., who was the long-time small fruits specialist and associate
professor with Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and
Extension Center in Blackstone; and Brian R. Smith of River Falls, Wisc., small
fruit breeder at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. The patent has been
assigned to both the University of Maryland at College Park and to VTIP.
Carl Griffey of Roanoke, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences in
the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received Plant
Variety Protection Certificates for four wheat varieties and one barley variety.
The Tribute (Certificate No. 200,300,113) and McCormick (200,300,115) wheat
varieties are the newest "all stars," said Griffey. "They are sisters, from the
same cross. Tribute produces wheat more suitable for crackers while McCormick
makes better cookies and cakes (pastries).
"Tribute produces one of the highest grain volume weights, or test weights, of
the cultivated varieties. That means a bushel of grain will be heavy," he said.
It is high yielding and suitable for conventional or no-till cultivation, widely
adapted the soft red winter wheat region and has received interim registration
for marketing in Canada. Except for soil borne mosaic viruses, it has broad
disease resistance, Griffey said. Both Tribute and McCormick have moderate
resistance to Fusarium head blight or scab, which devastated wheat crops on the
east coast last year.
Tribute is being marketed by Royster Clark. This year is its first year of
commercial production and it returned $66,000 in royalties from seed sales.
McCormick, which will be available this fall, is a public release marketed
through Virginia Crop Improvement Association. It shares the advantages of
Tribute, having broad resistance to insects and disease. Notably McCormick is
resistant to soil borne viruses and has moderate resistance to scab and stripe
rust, a new disease problem that has become prevalent in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Wheat variety 38206 (200300112), marketed exclusively by Southern States as
SS560, is a high-yielding, full-season wheat with good straw strength, which
makes it good for intensive management. It is moderately short and moderately
resistant to a number of diseases. It is being grown in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic
and Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri.
Pearl wheat (200,300,114) is the first soft, white winter wheat released by
Virginia Tech and is being marketed by the Michigan Crop Improvement
Association. Pearl matures earlier and has better test weight than many of the
current soft, white winter wheat varieties, Griffey said.
Price Barley (200,300,132), marketed by the Virginia Crop Improvement
Association, has high test weight and good straw strength. It was named for
Allen Price of Blacksburg, who worked in the small grains breeding program at
Virginia Tech for 40 years and who "essentially ran the barley breeding programs
prior to his retirement," Griffey said.
Edwin Lewis of Blacksburg, assistant professor of entomology in the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received patent 6524601 for
"Formulated arthropod cadavers for pest suppression," an "environmentally sound
and economically practical strategy for the control of the significant insect
and mite pests of pecan," according to the Agriculture Research Service (ARS).
Annual pecan production value in the United States averages $260 million, but up
to 90 percent of the crop can be lost due to insect damage, reports the ARS.
Laboratory research indicated that a beneficial insect-killing nematode (a
species of microscopic round worm) would kill adult pecan weevils. These strains
may represent an environmentally friendly control strategy to reduce or replace
chemical insecticide for pecan weevil suppression. Insect-killing nematodes are
usually applied in water, but ARS scientists in collaboration with H&T
Alternative Controls LLC and Lewis determined that superior pest control can be
achieved if the nematodes are applied in their infected hosts' cadavers - that
is, by using infected mealworms as Trojan horses.
Chen Zhangjing of Blacksburg, a research specialist in the T.M. Brooks Forest
Products Center in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, and Fred
M. Lamb of Christiansburg, professor emeritus of wood science in the college,
have received patent 6,634,118 for a "Method and apparatus for vacuum drying
wood in a collapsible container in a heated bath." The system can be constructed
to dry small or large dimension wood - from cabinet pieces to logs for homes,
for instance. The vacuum system dries wood with little stress or variation in
moisture content in individual boards. Zhangjing demonstrated that the vacuum
system can dry red oak nine times faster than conventional drying methods. "It
is simple to operate and, because only the area surrounding the wood is heated,
this system will reduce equipment and energy costs," he said. The patented
technology transfers heat efficiently and effectively at lower temperature so
wood dries without changing color. It can also be modified to dry wood of mixed
species, different thicknesses, and different initial moisture contents. The
patent has been licensed to American Moistening Company (AMCO) of Pineville,
N.C., which specializes in humidification technology. It is in use by a wood
turning and carving company in Hickory, N.C. Zhangjing received his Ph.D. from
Virginia Tech in 1998.The technology was the subject of his dissertation
research. Lamb, who was Extension specialist in wood products and processing,
was Zhangjing's committee chair.
Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)
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