From nanotechnology to raspberries, Virginia Tech inventions and creations can improve our lives

April 26, 2002

(Blacksburg, Va., May 8, 2002) -- Virginia Tech faculty members, students, and staff received 15 patents, including one plant patent, plus eight plant variety protection patents during 2001. They will be honored by the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. (VTIP) at a reception on May 8.

"It is a pleasure to recognize the individuals whose discoveries have contributed to a successful 17 year technology transfer program," says Mike Martin, executive vice president of VTIP.

Fiscal year 2001 was also a success in terms of returns from intellectual properties. Royalties topped $2 million for the first time -- a 33 percent increase over 2000.

"The creativity, contributions to knowledge, and technology transfer that patents signify are an important form of scholarship," says Len Peters, vice provost for research at Virginia Tech.

The 2001 patents are evenly split between technology and life sciences.


Chemistry professor Harry Dorn and former postdoctoral associate Steven Stevenson, who is now with Luna Innovations, received a patent for a new family of molecules -- metal filled fullerenes -- that have the potential to be the backbone of many nanotechnology applications. Since the hollow carbon atom also known as a buckeyball was discovered in 1985, scientists have been trying to put materials inside. "It has many potential applications, depending upon the metals and metal mixtures inserted," says Dorn. Insert magnetic material and there are semiconductor and, perhaps, superconductor applications. Insert other metals for fluorescent and other optical properties and to amplify fiber optic applications. Insert radioactive material and use the molecule as a tracer in medical applications, with the carbon cage protecting the radioactive center. Fluorescent and optical tags can also be used as tracers and contrast agents for medical and other applications. Quantum computing devices can be created by including atoms that have unpaired electrons and/or spin active materials. The patent, "Endohedral Metallofullerenes and Method for Making the Same" (No. 6,303,760) describes trimetallic nitride endohedral metallofullerenes and their preparation. A nitrogen atom anchors three metal atoms, which are then enclosed inside a fullerene. Luna Innovations has licensed the technology.

Hosadurga Shobha, postdoctoral associate; Venkat Sekharipuram, former Ph.D. student now at Johnson & Johnson; Chemistry Professor James McGrath, and Atul Bhatnagar of Johnson & Johnson, received a patent for inventing "High Refractive Index Thermoplastic Polyphosphonates" (No. 6,288,210), which has been licensed to Johnson & Johnson Vision Products. These melt processable polymers are particularly useful for optical and ophthalmic parts, such as lenses. The patent describes a method of preparing optical and ophthalmic lenses by injection molding using the patented polymers.

Ph.D. graduate Kunrong Wang and Electrical Engineering Professor Fred Lee, who is the director of Center for Power Electronic Systems (CPES), received a patent for a "Soft-Switched Quasi-Single-Stage (QSS) Bi-Directional Inverter/Charger" (No. 6,330,170) that converts AC power to DC power and vice versa. The research was sponsored by Heart Interface Corporation of Canada, manufacturer of DC-AC power inverter/charger systems for motorhomes and campers. They wanted to run 110V AC outlets in a camper from automotive-type DC batteries, for use when campers are away from electric plug-ins. Then they wanted the batteries to be recharged when the engine is running or the camper is able to plug into an AC source. Thus, they needed a DC-AC and AC-DC converter. The DC-AC task is usually performed in two steps. Lee explains, "The battery voltage has to be converted to a higher voltage level by a DC-DC converter, then the voltage has to be inverted to an AC output with an inverter." The invention provides a more efficient power conversion process using a single conversion step instead of two conversion steps, and can convert power in either direction. The invention developed at CPES by Wang and Lee also used a soft-switching technique to reduce the loss incurred during switching, thus making it a more efficient circuit. The product is also less expensive to produce. "It could also be used in homes, offices, and other locations where backup systems are needed in case of a power outage. Such an application is often referred to as uninterrupted power supplies (UPS)," says Lee.

Ph.D. graduate Boris Davidson and professor of electrical and computer engineering Charles Bostian received a patent for " One-Way Packet Communication Channel with Retransmissions" (No. 6,246,693). The patent is for a random access technique designed for any remote transmitter that sends messages infrequently but requires that such messages get through within a few seconds of initial transmission. Examples might include wireless smoke alarms, burglar alarms, biohazard sensors, equipment status monitors, sales terminals, or any application where only one-way transmission is needed and remote equipment has to be cheap. Bostian explains, "In most communications systems, a remote station will keep re-transmitting until notified that the message has been received. This requires that the remote station have both a transmitter and a receiver. Our patent allows the system to dispense with the receiver and to transmit the message in a way that offers a high probability that it will be received. This saves the cost of a receiver, usually much higher than that of a transmitter."

Wayne Durham, associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering, received a patent for "Computationally Efficient Control Allocation" (No. 6,278,908). The patent's primary application is to modern military tactical aircraft that must be capable of rapid maneuvering over a wide range of flight conditions. These aircraft are equipped with redundant control surfaces to enhance maneuvering capability. It is important to find the most effective combinations of these surfaces so that the aircraft is not carrying unnecessary weight and complex hydraulic systems, which detracts from its performance. It is also important that the optimal combinations be calculated in real-time so that the fly-by-wire control system can adapt to control system damage and failures while in flight. Durham's patented method has been exhaustively tested in Virginia Tech's manned-flight simulator, and demonstrates clear advantages over other methods used to distribute the control efforts.

Seshu Desu, a former professor of electrical engineering and materials science and engineering, and John Senkevich, a former student, invented a "Near-Room Temperature Thermal Chemical Vapor Deposition of Oxide Films" (Patent No. 6,316,055), which has been licensed to Quester Technologies Inc. This invention discloses methods for depositing SiO2 and other oxide dielectric materials using a near room temperature thermal chemical vapor deposition process. The films have chemical, physical, optical, and electrical properties similar to or better than those of oxide films deposited using conventional, high temperature methods. The films of the invention are useful in the manufacture of semiconductor devices of sub-micron feature size and for food packaging.

Life sciences

Thomas J. Inzana, professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, and former graduate student Christine Ward received a patent for "Recombinant Vaccine for Diseases Caused by Encapsulated Organisms" (No. 6,326,001), which has been licensed to American Home Products (now Wyeth Home Products). The patent is for vaccines to prevent diseases caused by normally encapsulated organisms. The vaccines are produced by genetically modifying key genes that encode for capsule synthesis to produce non-capsulated mutants of the desired organisms. As an example, a live, attenuated strain of Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae was genetically modified with a large deletion in a chromosomal region of the DNA which encodes for capsule synthesis. The attenuated strain is a safe and should prove to be effective vaccine against swine pleuropneumonia.

Elizabeth Grabau, associate professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, and former graduate student Carla Hegeman received a patent for "Soybean Phytase and Nucleic Acid Encoding the Same" (No. 6,303,766). The problem is that non-ruminant animals such as poultry and swine are unable to efficiently absorb phytate phosphorus in soybean meal. To satisfy dietary requirements, inorganic phosphate is added to diets, increasing feed costs. Undigested phytate is excreted in manure, which is applied as fertilizer to pastures and croplands, resulting in an increase in soil phosphorus and sometimes entering waterways, causing growth of algae and other aquatic vegetation far beyond normal limits. To solve the problem, Grabau will introduce phytase genes directly into soybean for expression in the seed. Phytase is an enzyme that breaks down phytate, liberating organic phosphorus. In the seed, available phosphorus will be absorbed by animals and feed additives will be unnecessary, reducing the amount of phosphorus excreted. The invention is also directed to nucleic acid expression constructs, vectors, and host cells comprising the isolated soybean phytase nucleic acids, as well as methods for producing recombinant and non-recombinant purified soybean phytase. The invention also relates to transgenic plants expressing the soybean phytase, particularly expression under seed-specific expression control elements.

A "Seaweed Supplement Diet for Enhancing Immune Response in Mammals and Poultry" earned a patent (No. 6,312,709) for Vivien Gore Allen, professor of plant and soil science at Texas Tech, formerly at Virginia Tech; Kevin Pond, chair of animal science and food technology at Texas Tech; Korinn Saker, assistant professor of large animal clinical sciences in the Virginia/Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Joseph Fontenot, professor of animal sciences at Virginia Tech. They developed TASCOTM, a proprietary seaweed-based product that, when used as a supplement, enhances the immune response when fed to mammals and poultry. When cattle or lambs graze endophyte-infected forage treated with the supplement, depressed immune function is reversed and enhanced. The enhanced immune function continues to the feedlot finishing phase even though no supplement is fed in that phase. Cattle in this study were started at Virginia Tech and Mississippi State and finished at Texas Tech, which has a feedlot research program. In two additional studies at Texas Tech, TASCO administered to pigs exposed to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome to impart resistance resulted in improved performance, and TASCO administered to lactating mares prior to weaning helped mitigate the stress of weaning based on neutrophil and lymphocyte ratios in their blood. The patent is assigned to Texas Tech and VTIP, has been licensed to Acadian Seaplants Limited, and is marketed as Tasco-Forage for pasture application. TASCO-EXTM and TASCO-14TM are feed supplements fed directly to livestock.

Lester Casida, a retired professor of microbiology at Penn State, Virginia Tech biology professor Joseph Falkinham III, and research associate Cody Cain have received a patent for a novel predator bacterium Burkholderia casidae (No. 6,319,497). The bacterium would be used in antimicrobial compounds to control microbial diseases of plants. Casida discovered the strain and Penn State licensed it to Dominion BioSciences, which contracted with Virginia Tech to identify the bacterium. Using cultures produced at Virginia Tech, scientists at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina have purified the compounds responsible for the broad spectrum antifungal activity. Dominion BioSciences is in the final stages of identifying the structure of the compounds. Samples of the purified compounds are currently being evaluated by a number of international agriculture-chemical companies for licensing.

William Velander, professor of chemical engineering, received three patents:

Plant patents and protections

Harry Jan Swartz, small fruits breeder at the University of Maryland, College Park; Joseph Fiola, small fruits specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research and Education Center near Sharpsburg; Herbert Stiles, associate professor with Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone, and Brian R. Smith, small fruit breeder at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls received a plant patent for a red raspberry variety named Josephine (No. PP12,173). Josephine joins several other varieties developed by these researchers which ripen early Harvesting can begin in August and continue through late October in warmer areas. Josephine is a primocane raspberry, which means new canes bear fruit. The fruit is larger, with tougher skin and more cohesive than that of the standard cultivars. The berries are extremely symmetrical and the drupelets tear apart rather than separate from each other. Josephine seems resistant to both late rust and leaf hoppers. In keeping with tradition, established for other new varieties in recent years, of naming the most successful after important women in the researchers' lives, Josephine was named after Fiola's grandmother.

Six varieties of wheat, developed by Carl Griffey, and two varieties of soybeans, developed by Glenn Buss, received plant variety protection (PVP), which provides intellectual property protection for plant varieties that reproduce with true-breeding seed (as opposed to a plant patent, which protects any distinct and new variety of plant produced without the use of genetic seeds).

The wheat varieties are:

The soybean varieties are:
VTIP contact: Mike Martin,, 540-951-9376 or Keith Jones,, 540-951-9378

Virginia Tech

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