From preventing disease to softening our ride, Virginia Tech inventions and creations can improve lives

May 07, 2001

(Blacksburg, Va., May 8, 2001) -- Virginia Tech faculty members, students, and staff who received 25 patents during 2000 were honored by the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. (VTIP at on May 8. "The creativity, contributions to knowledge, and technology transfer that patents signify are an important form of scholarship," said Len Peters, vice provost for research and president of VTIP.

Keith Jones, director of commericialization at VTIP, and Peters presented plaques for inventions related to hosptial beds for children, livestock vaccines, pest controls, new materials, energy saving power-electronic systems, noise supression, a 3-D microscope, and better antenna, sensors, and shock absorbers.

A research collaboration between Carilion New River Valley Medical Center and College of Architecture and Urban Studies faculty member A. E. Cromer and research associate Bonnie K. Johnson seeks to improve the hospital environment for children. Anxiety influences recovery and hospital rooms are cluttered with intimidating equipment, Johnson explains. So, the researchers are creating a friendlier room, beginning with the design of a hospital bed for children between 2 months and 2 years old. Solid panels made of wood were used to provide a sense of enclosure, safety, and scale. The panels also hide technology. Even the wheels are covered to appear as playful objects. The railing is animated with toy blocks that slide along vertical posts. The block elements contain balls that spin, which, depending on the nature of the child's touch, can be soothing or playful. The footboard and headboard are easily interchangeable with alternate iterations of the playscape. "This feature will be particularly beneficial in providing a dynamic environment for long-term patients," says Johnson. Selected features of the hospital bed are protected by a collection of U.S. Design Patents 431,946; 432,330; 432,340; and 435,375.

Faculty members in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine developed new and improved vaccines.

Thomas J. Inzana, professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology, and former graduate student Christine Ward received patent 6,086,894 on July 11 for "Recombinant vaccine for diseases caused by encapsulated organisms." The vaccine is a genetically engineered bacteria with genes, necessary for the bacteria to survive and cause disease, removed. When the altered bacteria are injected into the muscle, they induce an immune response against bacteria that can cause disease. Ward now works for Johnson & Johnson in San Diego on antimicrobial products.

The second new vaccine is based on a cattle vaccine against Brucellosis developed in the early 1990's by Gerhardt Schurig, professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology. "Vaccine RB51" was adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1996. As a result, as of this year, Brucellosis has been eradicated from the U.S. cattle population. The vaccine is now being used worldwide. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech researchers Stephen M. Boyle, Silvio Cravero, Schurig, Nanmalwar Sriranganathan, and Ramesh Vemulapalli, and Lynette Corbeil of the University of California at San Diego, made RB51 more efficient against Brucellosis and changed the vaccine so it also protects against two additional diseases of worldwide concern to humans and to the cattle industry: Tuberculosis and paratuberculosis. It is the first cattle vaccine available for tuberculosis and paratuberculosis and allows farmers to vaccinate their cattle against the three diseases simultaneously. Patent 6,149,920 for "Over-expressing homologous antigen vaccine and a method of making the same" was awarded Nov. 21 and is licensed to Veterinary Technologies Corp. of Blacksburg, Va.

Controlling insects also benefits human and animal health. Ten years ago, Heather Wren, received a lot of publicity for a composition that prevents cockroaches from reproducing. Now, the so-called "cockroach birth-control pill" has been licensed by Cleary Chemical Inc., who is marketing it as "Roach Terminal."

Retired from Virginia Tech but still an active entomology researcher, now living in Hampstead, N.C., Wren has broadened the product to control house flies, termites, and mosquitoes. An important motivation for Wren has always been to create safe products. Therefore, her research is based on nutritional metabolic pathways in specific insects. The compounds that make up the products Wren developed are safe to humans and the environment. Her work actually resulted in a new classification of pesticides, nutritional metabolism disrupters (NMDs). They are a class of pesticide based on the physiology of the insect. An NMD is not a poison, Wren explains. It stops an insect's ability to store nutrients. Without such reserves, the insect hasn't the energy to reproduce and dies of exhaustion and the population dies off. "It's not fast," Wren says. "But it is effective and there is no residual poison to enter the food chain, such as if a bird or animal eats the dead insect." Wren's compounds have been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as "biopesticides." Patent 6,037,344 for "Compositions and methods for controlling pest insects" was issued March 14. Cleary is developing a product for mosquito control.

Eight patents are for improved or new materials.
Garth L. Wilkes, University Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering; Jlanye Wen, former post doc, and Kurt Joseph Jordens, former doctoral student, received a patent for a transparent, scratch resistant coating for plastic and metallic materials. Patent 6,072,018 was awarded June 6 and is licensed to Research Corporation Technologies.

Caiguo. Gong, a Ph.D. graduate now at Exxon-Mobil, and Harry Gibson, Virginia Tech chemistry professor, received a patent for "Reversible, mechanically interlocked polymeric networks, which self-assemble." Gibson explains that when two independently prepared linear polymers are mixed, they "undergo mechanical connections through molecular recognition to form branched or network structures, thus altering their thermal and mechanical properties." Patent 6,100,329 was issued Aug. 8.

Self-Assembly also figures in a patent awarded to Yanjing Liu, former research associate in the Fiber & Electro-Optics Research Center, and Guy A. Schick, former chemistry faculty member. Patent 6,114,099, for patterned molecular self-assembly, issued Sept. 5 and is licensed to NanoSonic. Christian W. Kohlpaintner of Celanese International Corporation, Dallas; Hao Ding, a Ph.D. graduate now at Air Products; and Brian Hanson, Virginia Tech professor of chemistry, received a patent for "Chemical processes using aryl diphosphine containing catalysts." The invention provides novel water-soluble diphosphines. The catalysts are especially useful as intermediates for pharmaceuticals, flavors, fragrances, agricultural chemicals, and therapeutic applications. Patent 6,043,398 issued March 28 and has been assigned to Celanese.

Virginia Tech researchers Norman Broyles and Jack Lesko, engineering science and mechanics; Judy Riffle, Stephen V. Davis, and Nikhil Verghese, chemistry, developed a low-cost composite that combines rapidly cured vinyl ester resin and carbon fibers precoated with a water dispersable sizing solution before being embedded in the resin. The composite is well-suited for aggressive outdoor environments, including civil infrastructure, marine uses, and off-shore oil rigs, where high strength is needed, as well as automotive, rail, and marine industries where lightweight durable exterior body parts are needed. Patent 6,020,063 issued Feb. 1.

Riffle has a second patent for "Fiber materials for manufacturing fiber reinforced phenolic composites and adhesives with nucleophilic initiators positioned on the fiber surfaces." Co-inventors are Christy Tyberg, former student, and James McGrath, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. The researchers developed fiber reinforced materials with the fibers coated and treated to avoid premature curing, ensure rapid cure, and allow the thermosetting matrix materials to be heated to reduce viscosity -- important for continuous fabrication processes. Patent 6,090,486 issued July 18.

McGrath and researchers from Johnson & Johnson Vision Products Inc., Roanoke received a patent for rapid, environmentally safe methods for preparing thermalplastic lenses. Patent 6,040,416 was issued March 21 and is licensed to Johnson & Johnson (fomerly Innotech).

There was one patent for improved electronic memory materials. Carlos Suchicital, Virginia Tech researcher in materials science and engineering, explains that the patent for "Dynamic random access memories with dielectric compositions stable to reduction" is for the engineering of a group of materials that readily withstand the harsh environment of very large scale integration (VLSI) processes in the semiconductor industry. Patent 6,139,780 was awarded Oct. 31. It is assigned to Sharp Kabushiki Kaisha of Osaka.

Virginia Tech researchers in the NSF Center for Power Electronic Systems received two patents for power-saving devices:

Wei Chen, center director Fred C. Lee, and researchers from Matsushita Electric Works Ltd., Osaka, received a patent 6,057,652 issued May 2 for a cost effective electronic ballast for linear fluorescent lamps that saves more than one-third of electric consumption, compared to the conventional magnetic ballast.

Two researchers from Delta Electronics Inc. and Jindong Zhang and Lee of Virginia Tech received patent 6,147,882 on Nov. 14 for a "Single-stage input current shaping technique with voltage-doubler rectifier front-end." The invention is about integrating the power corrective factor with AC/DC power supplies such as are used in computers, telecommunications, and network systems. It would enable the equipment manufacturer to reduce the cost by 10 percent.

Ph.D. graduates Chen and Zhang now work at Linear Technologies.

There are three patents for noise reduction technologies.

William R. Saunders and Michael Allen Vaudrey of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech received patent 6,078,672 on June 20 for an "Adaptive personal active noise reduction system." This invention is an individual noise control system that can be built into a helmet or hard hat. It allows an individual to adjust the noise control and can, to a degree, differentiate between noise fields, according to Saunders. Vaudrey, who will complete his dissertation this summer or fall, is vice president at Adaptive Technologies Inc. of Blacksburg, Va., which has licensed the technology. Wing-Fai Ng, the Chris Kraft Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and his former students, Thomas A. Leitch and Christopher A. Saunders, received a patent for an invention that reduces noise from commercial aircraft gas turbine engines. The method can also be used to extend the useful life of both military and commercial aircraft engines. Patent 6,027,305 was awarded Feb. 22.

Ricardo A. Burdisso and Jerome P. Smith, of mechanical engineering, received patent 6,112,514 on Sept. 5 for a passive approach to reduce noise from commercial turbofan engines. Virginia Tech is working with BFGoodrich Aerospace, Aerostructures Group (Formerly Rohr) to develop this technology.

Other patents range from a 3-D microscope to better antennas, sensors, and shock absorbers. Ting-Chung Poon, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Optical Image Processing Laboratory at Virginia Tech; Brad Schilling, a former Ph.D. student; Guy Indebetouw, professor of physics, and Brian Storrie, professor of biochemistry, invented an alternative approach to three-dimensional imaging for biological specimens. Their invention is based on the principle of holography, Poon explains. Patent 6,038,041 was awarded March 14 for a "Three-dimensional holographic fluorescence microscope." Storrie explains that the microscope uses a phase modulation technique, or computational reconstruction technique, for creating a 3D holographic-type image of a microscopic object through the collection of a single optical scan of the image. He reports that the European Molecular Biology Laboratory is interested in developing the technology for the imaging of biological embryos at various stages.

Anbo Wang, professor and director of Virginia Tech's Photonics Laboratory, and his students, received a patent for a new class of optical fiber sensors for self-calibrating measurement of pressure, temperature and strain at high temperatures. Patent 6,069,686 for "Self-calibrating optical fiber pressure, strain and temperature sensors," was issued May 30. The sensors are able to take measurements in extreme environments and, because they use broadband energy, they are able to report temperature, pressure, and flow quickly from great distances. Sensor Highway Ltd. of England is deploying the unique sensors in drilled holes in petroleum fields (oil and gas wells and flow lines).

A. Lynn Abbott and Bin Yuan, of electrical and computer engineering, received patent 6,133,948 on Oct. 17 for an "Automatic identification of articles having contoured surfaces." The system uses laser sources and video imaging techniques to identify and distinguish between similar items such as wooden cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

Mehdi Ahmadian, director of the Advanced Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory at Virginia Tech; graduate students Brian Reichert and Xubin Song, and Steve Southward of Lord Corporation did research resulting in a novel idea for controlling shock absorbers (for example, magneto-rheological dampers) in automobiles and other vehicles to provide a more comfortable ride for the occupants. Patent 6,115,658 for "No-jerk semi-active skyhook control method and apparatus" was issued Sept. 5. The invention identified a short coming in the 30-year-old control policy known as "skyhook" and provided a "no-jerk" improvement.

William A. Davis, J. Matthew Monkevich, J. Randall Nealy, and Warren L. Stutzman, of the Virginia Tech Antenna Group, invented a "Trimmed foursquare antenna radiating element." Patent 6,057,802 was issued May 2. A foursquare antenna is a very thin printed antenna that covers wide frequency bandwidth and is used for radar and communications arrays, explains Stutzman. "The trimmed foursquare is a more compact version of the foursquare antenna that permits close spacing of elements in array antennas."
You can search the U.S. Patent Office by patent number at

VTIP contact: Keith Jones

Virginia Tech

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