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Virginia Tech inventions and creations can improve our lives

Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University : 14 April, 2003  (Technical Article)
Virginia Tech faculty members, students, and staff who received 26 patents during 2002 will be honored by the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. 'The creativity, contributions to knowledge, and technology transfer that patents signify are an important form of scholarship,' says university president Charles Steger.
Mike Martin, VTIP executive vice president, observes that 'the patents awarded to Virginia Tech faculty members, students, and staff represent a significant resource for economic development.'

Patents were awarded for power electronic improvements, including switches for hybrid fuel cell/electric vehicles, power converters, and power unit packaging; new materials and sensors, including a sensor for surface friction in aircraft and a process for creating nanomaterials with precise structure control; an improved method for dewatering fine coal during processing; plant varieties, including wheat, a new raspberry, and a new peanut; a livestock supplement that improves the immune system; and human health-related inventions, including a correction for retinal detachment, a treatment for hemophilia, a vaccine against brucellosis, and a therapy garment for children with sensory integration dysfunction. Learn more at

Five patents for improved electronics, including power-saving devices and switches for use in fuel cells, were awarded to researchers in the Center for Power Electronic Systems, an NSF engineering research center.

Yong Li, a recent Ph.D. graduate in electrical and computer engineering now with International Rectifier, and CPES director Fred C. Lee received a patent for 'Three-phase zero-current-transition inverters and rectifiers with three auxiliary switches' (6,337,801 ). Such devices are used in alternating current adjustable speed drives for electric and hybrid combustion/electric automobiles. The invention reduces the number of auxiliary switches from six to three while retaining the merits of the existing three-phase ZCT techniques (the main switches and the auxiliary switches are turned on and off under zero-current conditions). The invention is cost-effective, reliable, and efficient.

A second fuel cell related patent was received by former visiting scientist Lizhi Zhu, now with Ballard Power Systems; Jih-Sheng Lai, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Lee. Direct current generated by different power systems, batteries and fuel cells, for instance, must provide different voltage needs, such as 12 V lights, sensors, and controllers and 300 V traction inverters and motors. The patented 'Accelerated commutation for passive clamp isolated boost converters' (6,452,815) is an efficient and cost effective bi-directional DC/DC converter that can effectively reduce switch voltage stress. Ballard Power Systems has a non-exclusive license because of their research sponsorship and funding the patent. They are actively pursuing potential product applications.

Graduate student Francisco Canales-Abarca, CPES technical coordinator Peter Barbosa, who was a Ph.D. student at the time of the research, and Lee received a patent for a 'Zero voltage zero current three level DC-DC converter' (6,349,044). DC-DC power converters are required for high voltage, high power applications such as in telecommunications, battery chargers, and uninterruptible power supplies. The invention solves the problems of voltage loss, stress during switching, and cost.

Xunwei Zhou, a Ph.D. graduate in electrical engineering now at Linear Technology, and Lee received a patent for a 'Current sensing and current sharing voltage regulator module (VRM)' (6,414,469). Today, every Intel processor is powered by multiphase VRM technology that CPES helped to develop. The new generation of microprocessor is operating at a much lower voltage and higher current, with a fast dynamic response to implement the sleep/power mode of operation that conserves energy and extends the operation time for battery operated equipment. Delta Power also has a non-exclusive license because of their research sponsorship and funding of the patent.

Yuxin Li, a Ph.D. graduate in electrical engineering now at Analog Devices Inc.; associate professor Alex Q. Huang of CPES; and Kevin Motto, a master's degree graduate in electrical engineering now at Northrop Grumman Corporation, received a patent for a 'Diode-assisted gate turn-off thyristor' (6,426,666 ), a switch that significantly increases the turn-off voltage that can be used in high current/power semiconductor devices, leading to improved power electronics and industry application. The invention is also economical in terms of cost and ease of design.

A related patent is for power electronics packaging. Xingsheng Liu, who recently earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering, and MSE associate professor Guo-Quan Lu received a patent for 'Low-cost 3D flip-chip packaging technology for integrated power electronics modules' (6,442,033). Virtually all semiconductor electronic devices, from transistors to integrated circuits, require packaging for electrical connection, mechanical protection and support, and heat dissipation. However, development of packaging for semiconductor power devices and modules, which process or convert current and voltage of electrical power needed by various electronic circuits and machines, has not kept pace with the development of packaging for digital circuits. The invention enables the low-cost manufacture of power electronics modules with reduced electrical resistance and parasitics resulting from interconnection of semiconductor chips, ease of integration of other circuit elements for intelligence and control, and improved heat dissipation.

There were eight patents awarded for materials and sensors.

Electrical engineers and aerospace and ocean engineers joined forces to invent a 'Fiber optic wall shear stress sensor' (6,426,796). Surface friction, which results in resistance to motion in airplanes and ships, is difficult to measure. The invention uses an optical fiber to measure shear force against a floating head. According to the patent description, 'By measuring the small frictional force exerted on a movable element of the surface, one is able to obtain direct measurements of wall shear stress. These types of measurements work well for laminar, transitional and turbulent flows without prior knowledge of the state of the flow.' Using a fiber optic sensor overcomes problems from temperature and electromagnetic field sensitivity. The inventors are Wade J. Pulliam, a Ph.D. graduate now on the research faculty at UCLA; Joseph Schetz, professor of aerospace and ocean engineering; Mark E. Jones, vice president of engineering at Luna Analytics; and Kent Murphy, chairman of the board and founder of Luna Innovations Inc. of Blacksburg. The patents is shared by Luna and VTIP.

Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center director Richard Claus; Tingying Zeng, a research scientist at Nanocluster Materials of Blacksburg; and FEORC research scientist Yanjing Liu received a patent for 'Electrostrictive and piezoelectric thin film assemblies and method of fabrication' (6,447,887). Electrostrictive and piezoelectric materials are used in sensors, micro-electromechanical systems, and actuators, but, when an electric field is applied, molecular-level polarization may change the dimensions of the material. Piezoelectric materials, conversely, produce an electrical charge displacement when mechanically strained. By using electrostatic self assembly in conjunction with at least one layer of dipolar material (molecules that separate positive and negative charges), the invention overcomes these limitations. The method provides a thinner film and precise structural control, with at least one layer of a dipolar material. The method also allows an optional interlayer between the substrate and the film for adhesion or as a buffer. The invention facilitates the preparation of a large variety of films for different environments, fabricated on substrates made from various materials in various shapes. The film thickness can be increased by adding layers to match the requirements of various devices. The technology is licensed to NanoSonic, a Blacksburg based business spun out from Virginia Tech.

Former FEORC research scientist Yanjing Liu and former chemistry professor Guy A. Schick received a patent for 'Patterned molecular self-assembly' (6,492,096). In other words, films are able to self-assemble on patterned supports. The film may be a monolayer or several layers. The self-assemblies of the invention are uniform, better defined, and have a higher resolution than previous molecular self-assemblies. The process is easier as the patterning techniques do not require etching, which may damage the layers, or stamping, which may lead to uneven application of the film. Potential uses include full color flat displays, membrane separation, conducting and insulating circuits, optical and nonlinear optical devices, and multi-element chemical sensors. This technology is also licensed to NanoSonic.

In Kyeong Yoo, who received his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and was a research scientist in materials engineering science from 1991 to 1993, received three patents for inventions developed while he was at Virginia Tech. He is now director of Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in Suwon, Korea, and the patents are shared by Samsung and VTIP. The first patent is for '2T-1C ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM) and operation method thereof' (6,404,667), a method to perform write/read operations without switching, thereby avoiding degradation of memory materials. The second and third patents are for an 'Apparatus for pyroelectric emission lithography using patterned emitter' (6,476,402 ) and a 'Ferroelectric emitter' (6,479,924 ). The apparatus allows electron emission suitable for lithography. A pyroelectric emitter, or ferroelectric emitter, is patterned using a mask. Upon heating, 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. Pyroelectricity refers to the production of polarization changes by temperature variations. A disadvantage is the requirement of re-poling or heating the emitter above the Curie temperature for re-emission. Yoo's ferroelectric emitter invention allows electron emission in both wide and narrow gaps of a mask layer and in an isolated pattern, such as a doughnut shape, while facilitating re-poling in pyroelectric emission. Samsung has an exclusive license for this technology.

Seshu B. Desu, a former faculty member in materials science and engineering now at the University of Massachusetts, and former Virginia Tech graduate student John Senkevich, now of Troy, N.Y., received two patents. One, for 'Organic polymer/oxide multilayer thin films deposited by chemical vapor deposition (CVD)' (6, 358, 864) is shared by Quester Technology Inc. and VTIP. The second is for 'Near room temperature CVD synthesis of organic polymer/oxide dielectric nanocomposites' (6,495,208).

One of five patents with health applications is also a new material.

Chemistry professor Judy Riffle, Janice Paige Phillips, a Ph.D. graduate in chemistry, and James P. Dailey of Erie (Pa.) Retinal Surgery received a patent for 'Magnetic fluids' (6,464,968), specifically for methods for synthesizing copolymers useful as magnetic dispersion stabilizers for treating retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is caused by a break in the retina and subsequent passage of fluid through that break underneath the retina, separating the retina from the choroid. Retinal detachment is treated by closing the retinal break, either by scleral buckle (a silicone band that encircles the eye and compresses the wall of the eye against the retina) or internal tamponade (fluid or gas injected in the eye). The invention calls for injecting biocompatible magnetic fluid inside the eye and using a magnetized scleral buckle to pull the fluid to a specific site and close the hole in the retina. The patent is shared by VTIP and Dailey.

The second medical patent is for a Taxol analog. Chemistry professor David G.I. Kingston, former postdoctoral associates Mahendra Devichand Chordia and Prakash G. Jagtap, and John Kadow of Bristol-Myers Squibb received a patent for '2-aroyl-4-acyl paclitaxel analogs' (6,476,242). The compound, analogs, and intermediates may be used to form pharmaceutical compositions having anti-neoplastic activity and may be used to treat cancer. The natural product paclitaxel is an effective antitumor drug against breast and ovarian cancer and some lung cancer; however, there is a limited natural supply of paclitaxel. The Kingston group's analogs have different substituents than paclitaxel at the 2 and 4 positions, and these differences result in compounds with improved activity as compared with paclitaxel itself. The patent is shared by Bristol-Myers Squibb and VTIP.

Chemical engineering professor Bill Velander, William Drohan and the late HenryK Lubon of the American Red Cross, and the late John Johnson of Virginia Tech's Fralin Biotechnology Center received a patent for 'Expression of active human factor IX in the mammary tissue and milk of non human transgenic mammals' (6,344,596 ). Factor IX is a protein critical to the normal formation of blood clots to stop bleeding. It's deficiency results in hemophilia B. The researchers use genetically engineered pigs as bioreactors that make human Factor IX in their milk. Methods of separating Factor IX from the milk and methods of treating hemophilia B are also described by the patent. The patent is shared by the American Red Cross and VTIP. The evaluation of transgenic Factor IX in hemophilia B animal models is underway at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. (Learn more at

Researchers from the U.S. Army and Virginia Tech joined forces to create a 'Live vaccine against Brucellosis' (6,444,445). Inventors are Mikeljon Nikolich, David L. Hoover, Richard L. Warren, and Luther Lindler of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Ted Hadfield of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Gerhardt Schurig, Stephen Boyle, and Nammalwar Sriranganthan, of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and John McQuiston, now at the Centers for Disease Control. Brucella infects a significant number of people and livestock in developing countries and infects wild and domestic animals in the United States. It is also a potential biowarfare agent; strains of Brucella have been constructed with resistance to multiple antibiotics used to treat the disease. Although rarely fatal, once established, the disease is difficult to treat since the bacteria reside in the bone marrow. The newly patented vaccine uses an isolated Brucella DNA fragment. It is relatively safe to handle and manufacture, does not revert to a pathogen or mutate, and does not retain resistance to antibiotics used in the treatment of brucellosis. The patent also provides methods for diagnosis of Brucellae infection, a diagnostic kit for use in detecting the presence of Brucellae in mammalian tissue or serum, and a therapeutic method for the treatment or amelioration of symptoms of Brucellosis. The patent is assigned to the United States of America as represented by the Secretary of the Army. It is licensed to Veterinary Technologies Corporation, a Blacksburg based business spun out from Virginia Tech.

Sherry Haar, a Ph.D. graduate from Virginia Tech now an assistant professor of apparel and textiles at Kansas State University, and Joann Boles, retired professor of clothing and textiles at Virginia Tech, received a patent for 'Therapy Apparel for Children Diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction' (6,401,249). Haar used the clothing design process developed by Boles to develop a theme-decorated therapy garment, a cute bug, for pre-school children for use during occupational therapy. It was the first study of the clothing-related therapy needs of preschool children with sensory integration dysfunction. More information and a photo are at The patent is shared by the KSU Research Foundation and VTIP.

One patent is for a method to improve coal cleaning. Roe-Hoan Yoon, professor of mineral engineering at Virginia Tech and director of the Center for Advanced Separation Technologies, and Ramazan Asmatulu, a post doctoral associate in the Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center, received a patent for 'Methods of improving centrifugal filtration' (6,440,316). Coal is typically separated from mineral waste by water-based processes and must then be dewatered before subsequent use. The invention improves the efficiency of removing water during the drainage period of the centrifugal filtration process, lowering the amount of the residual water left in the filter cake.

Three wheat varieties and a new peanut received plant variety protection and a new raspberry received a plant patent.

The three varieties of soft red winter wheat developed by the Virginia Tech Small Grains Breeding and Genetics Program, led by crop and soil environmental sciences professor Carl Griffey, are being marketed by Southern States. Griffey calls FFR 566W (PVP 200,000,165) a 'work horse' variety. 'It has broad disease resistance and exceptionally good milling and baking quality,' he reports. It was derived from a cross among earlier successful varieties made in 1980 at Virginia Tech. This medium-tall wheat has good straw strength, good resistance to powdery mildew and leaf rust, is moderately resistant to leaf and glume blotch, barley yellow dwarf virus, and wheat spindle streak mosaic virus, and produces high flour yields ranging from 75.5 to 77.3 percent extraction. It has moderate winter tolerance, best adapted to the U.S. mid-south and eastern seaboard states.

The next two wheat varieties to be patented in 2002 first appeared from crosses made in 1990. VA96W-247 (PVP 200,200,260), now SS 550, is very high yielding and broadly adapted, although it is grown mostly in Virginia, Kentucky, southern Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, New York, and Michigan. The mid-full season, short-stature wheat is resistant to stem rust and moderately resistant to powdery mildew. VA96W-158 (PVP 200,200,261), now SS 520, matures very early and has good milling and baking quality, Griffey says. It has been productive throughout in the mid-Atlantic states and in Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky. It is moderately resistant to powdery mildew, barley yellow dwarf virus, and wheat spindle streak mosaic virus.
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