A device to detect and stop electrical fires, a DNA-sensor for spotting dangerous pathogens and a method for making flexible microelectronics were announced tonight as The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's (APL) Inventions of the Year. The annual awards event, held on the APL campus in Laurel, Md., showcased technologies submitted in 2006 that were developed by APL staff members.
Last calendar year, 190 APL inventors reported 125 inventions to APL's Office of Technology Transfer. From this group, an independent panel of 25 representatives from industry and patent law selected three top inventions based on their benefit to society, improvement over existing technology, and commercial potential. APL Technology Transfer Director Kristin Gray presented plaques and cash awards to the winning inventors, listed with their inventions below:
Portable Arc Flash Protection System
APL researcher Bruce Land has designed a portable system to detect and stop electrical fires caused by "arcing." An arc fault is a short circuit that travels through the air between electrical conductors; an arc flash is the superheated blast of hot air and plasma that occurs when the arc strikes the conductors — and can lead to severe burns and other injuries. The APL system helps protect people working on "live" electrical systems from arc flashes, a critical need when severe arc flash injuries send about 2,000 workers a year to burn centers.
The APL-developed arc flash detectors and a small control box mount on a stand, giving the sensors a clear view of the energized equipment. If an arc flash occurs, the control box would send a signal to a local or remote upstream breaker that cuts the flow of current to the flash, reducing damage and injury. The sensors and transmitters are also small enough to be attached to the operator's clothing.
Nanoporous Nucleic Acid Sensor
Stergios Papadakis has devised an electronic DNA-sensing method that could make it easier and more efficient to detect bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis — the dangerous pathogen that causes anthrax.
The APL method flows DNA molecules in a solution through microscopic pores in a nucleic acid sensor; the target DNA binds with complementary "probe" nucleic material located in these pores, which could be as small (if not smaller) than the width of a human hair. An electronic sensor then measures the conductivity changes in the DNA after it binds with the probe materials, allowing the system to quickly identify its source.
The system, still in testing, requires none of the florescent dyes or optical readout equipment found in similar technologies. Its designers aim to make it small, robust and portable.
Advanced Thin Flexible Microelectronic Assemblies
Harry Charles, Charles Banda, Arthur Francomacaro, Allen Keeney and S. John Lehtonen are being honored for their method of making flexible microelectronics, including a new process for multi-layer, thin-film substrates that are thinner and have a higher interconnect density than today's commercially available materials.
Their work focuses on achieving maximum flexibility and thinness through overall system assembly and a novel method of die thinning — for die as thin as a single micron (about 50 times thinner than even the thinnest human hair).
Flexible electronics offer advantages in their ruggedness, light weight, compact size and low power consumption. Their many potential uses include smart cards, active circuit appliqués and highly miniaturized and implantable biomedical devices.
Master Inventor Award
This year's ceremony also included presentations of the Lab's first Master Inventor Awards, honoring staff members (past and present) who hold at least 10 U.S. patents for their APL work. Nine of the awardees are current Lab employees, seven are retired and five are deceased. For deceased awardees, family members were invited to accept the awards on their behalf. The inaugural Master Inventors are Joseph Abita (retired), Paul Biermann, Bliss Carkhuff, Harry Charles Jr., Timothy Cornish, Robert Fischell (retired), Harvey Ko, Sverre Kongelbeck (retired-deceased), Jerry Krill, John Kuck (retired-deceased), Roger Lapp (retired-deceased), John Murphy (retired), George Murray, Carl Nelson, Eugene Nooker (retired), Richard Potember, David Rabenhorst (retired), Woodrow Seamone (retired), Charles Swet (retired), Gilbert Wilkes II (retired-deceased) and Theodore Wyatt (retired-deceased).
APL's Office of Technology Transfer
APL opened its Technology Transfer office in late 1999 to facilitate the transfer of technology developed at the Lab to the private sector. It now ranks among the top research universities in its number of inventions, licenses, patent applications, patents issued, start-up companies and associated research and development income. Other accomplishments include:
- 906 inventions disclosed
- 175 licensing agreements signed with external companies
- 179 U.S. patents issued
- 16 start-up companies; 53 jobs created
- More than $26 million in license and associated Research and Development income
For more OTT information visit: www.jhuapl.edu/ott