A high-tech neutralization system that foils airborne pathogens, tough-but-flexible body armor and a more efficient quantum computing method are The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's top inventions for 2003, announced tonight during APL's fifth annual Invention of the Year ceremony in Laurel, Md.
An independent review panel selected the winners from 139 APL inventions — representing the work of 220 inventors — based on their potential benefit to society, improvement over existing technology and commercial potential. APL Director Richard T. Roca and Director of Technology Transfer Wayne E. Swann congratulated researchers on their work and presented trophies and cash awards to the three winning teams of inventors, in the categories of Life Science, Physical Science and Information Science.
WINNER: LIFE SCIENCE
Hydroxyl Free Radical Induced Decontamination of Spores, Viruses and Bacteria in a Dynamic System
APL researchers Richard Potember and Wayne Bryden have developed a system to destroy airborne biological agents as they move through a building's heating and air conditioning ducts. The technology, which works without any special filtering that might impede airflow, uses a reaction chamber attached to a heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) unit.
When pathogen-laced air enters a chamber, it mixes with molecules that have been radiated by ultraviolet light. The UV light converts the molecules into free radicals. Water is sprayed into the chamber where it mixes with the air and free radicals, creating neutralized pathogens.
The system has passed proof-of-concept tests that involved retrofitting it into existing HVAC systems, and effectively neutralizing simulated bacteria, viruses and spores. The technology has been licensed to the Bio-Defense Research Group, Inc. of Upper Marlboro, Md., which is using it in a system called Path-Away, designed to protect commercial-size buildings (such as hospitals). Other prime candidates for the system include "sick" buildings, cruise ships, airplanes and other vulnerable settings.
WINNER: PHYSICAL SCIENCE
Strain-Rate Sensitive Flexible Armor with Laminated Composite Elements
Because of the steel or ceramic plates inside, the "soft" body armor that soldiers and police officers wear is heavy, bulky and hinders movement. APL researchers Jack Roberts and Paul Biermann are teaming up with Richard Reidy of the University of North Texas to develop a soft body-armor vest that is light enough to prevent fatigue after considerable use, flexible enough to allow ease of movement, but also rigid enough to stop automatic assault rifle bullets.
The armor will combine two (or more) overlapping layers of ceramic composite inserts. The inserts are encapsulated in a "smart" polymer that holds the discs in place for flexibility and coverage as the wearer moves around, then stiffens at the moment of a ballistic impact. This "strain-rate sensitive" polymer may be reinforced by layers of traditional soft-armor fabric, such as Kevlar. The armor can be designed to fit the legs and arms in addition to the torso.
WINNER: INFORMATION SCIENCE
Method for Quantum Information Processing Using Single Photons and the Zeno Effect
APL researchers James Franson, Bryan Jacobs and Todd Pitman have discovered a way to significantly reduce the number of errors in quantum computing calculations. Such errors occur mostly because of the seemingly random behavior of quantum computing bits, called "qubits."
Their scheme of quantum information processing uses single photons as qubits, and fiber optic cables to efficiently transport qubits to a simple quantum logic type device. It includes performing a "square root of SWAP" operation — a way of swapping old information in a computer's memory with new information — by using the quantum Zeno effect, which slows down the decay rate of quantum computing bits, to greatly inhibit or suppress the errors in quantum computing calculations.
Because of their unique ability to work on all possible solutions of a problem simultaneously, quantum computers will be able to solve problems that conventional computers can't handle. APL's invention is a significant step toward developing practical quantum computers, whose tremendous speed will make them invaluable in areas such as encryption and modeling and simulation.
Technology Transfer at APL
Last fiscal year (October 2002-September 2003) the APL Office of Technology Transfer completed 35 new license agreements and created three start-up companies. The Laboratory's Office of Patent Counsel filed 216 patent applications and saw 22 patents issued.
In its first four years, APL's technology transfer program has executed 81 license agreements, licensed more than 100 technologies, created 10 start-up companies, and secured more than $14 million in licensing and related research and development income.
For more information about APL's technology transfer initiatives, please visit www.jhuapl.edu/ott.