Virginia Tech researchers receive patents for energy, health inventions

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 1, 2006 – Virginia Tech faculty members, staff, and students received 17 patents during 2005. Inventions include seven technologies that use energy more efficiently and safeguard the electric grid and oil resources -- including two that received R&D 100 awards, as well as three developments to improve human health as potential treatments for cancer and depression and by making patients more comfortable.

"We know these patents will enhance Virginia Tech's reputation as a place that contributes to the creation of new knowledge and entrepreneurship, and provide recognition of Virginia Tech's significant role in economic development,” said Mark Coburn, the new executive vice president of Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties (VTIP). “University patents also benefit scholarship by setting the stage for new innovations to follow.”

VTIP, the not-for-profit organization that pursues patents and markets Virginia Tech discoveries, will recognize the patent recipients at a reception in April.

Patents were also awarded for three inventions that advance telecommunication, a new high-protein wheat variety and a delicious red raspberry, a means to control noise in many settings, and a highly controllable semiconductor lithography process.

Power electronics, fuel cells, and sensors for oil wells

The Center for Power Electronic Systems (CPES) received five patents. Fred C. Lee, director of CPES, electrical and computer engineering faculty member Jih-Sheng Lai, and former visiting scientist Lizhi Zhu, now with Ballard Power Systems, invented Accelerated Commutation for Passive Clamp Isolated Boost Converters (6,876,556). The invention is an efficient and cost effective bidirectional DC/DC converter that reduces switch voltage stress. For example, it allows smooth conversion between two sources of direct current (DC) generating devices, such as between fuel cells and high voltage batteries, to provide appropriate current levels for driving an electric vehicle and for the electrical components on the vehicle, such as lights and sensors, regardless of voltage. The technology has been adopted by Ballard Power Systems, the largest fuel-cell company in the world.

Lee, research assistant professor Ming Xu, and Ph.D. graduate Jinghai Zhou received patents for a Multi-phase Interleaving Isolated DC/DC Converter (6,944,033), designed to provide more power, higher operating frequency, and much reduced switching losses to power the next generation of microprocessors, as well as other portable telecommunication and portable equipment; and a Bridge-Buck Converter with Self-Driven Synchronous Rectifiers (6,859,372), which provides a more power-efficient and low-cost solution for controlling the high-frequency voltage/current rectifier (synchronous rectifier) commonly used in low-voltage, high-current DC/DC converters, such as are in desktop and laptop computers, servers, and power supplies for telecommunication devices. This technology has been licensed by the Intellectual Property Protection Fund (IPPF), created by members of the CPES industry consortium, and applied to powering the microprocessor, which has demonstrated by far to be the most efficient voltage regulator solution.

Other inventions from CPES that received patents are an Emitter Turn-Off Thyristors (ETO) (6,933,541), invented by Alex Huang, formerly with CPES and now a professor at North Carolina State University; and a Solid State DC Circuit Breaker (6,952,335), invented by Huang and electrical engineering Ph.D. graduates Xigen Zhou and Zhenxue Xu. The ETO is a solid-state switch for use in high-frequency power converters that can provide fast and dynamic voltage support, fast switching speed, rugged turn-off capacity, and voltage control and protection. The invention earned a 2003 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine as one of the “100 most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year.” The circuit breaker is a high-speed, solid-state circuit breaker capable of interrupting high DC currents without generating an arc. It uses the ETO thyristor as the switch. The American Competitiveness Institute helped develop a manufacturing process for the ETO and Solitronics licensed the product from VTIP.

A Method and Apparatus for Packaging Optical Fiber Sensors for Harsh Environments (6,928,202) was invented by Gary Pickrell, assistant professor in materials science and engineering; Anbo Wang, director of the Center for Photonic Technologies; and Yuhong Duan, a former graduate student. A fiber optic sensor is protected by a deformable hermetic metal encapsulant, which can be easily applied in the field, so that it is able to be used in harsh environments, such as in an oil well. A suite of fiber optic sensor technologies including the method of hermetic packaging received an R&D 100 award in 2004 as one of the top 100 new products developed worldwide. The new fiber optic sensors are about the diameter of a human hair and can reach depths exceeding 10,000 feet. The tiny sensors can be hydraulically deployed through a small tube, which means they can be pumped into place and retrieved without pulling the wellhead and casing. The sensors require no down-hole electronics or electrical power and can provide long term measurement capability. The invention has been licensed by Tubel Technologies.

A patent for a Hydrogen-Selective Silica-Based Membrane (6,854,602) was obtained by chemical engineering Ph.D. graduate Doohwan Lee, former research associate Lixiong Zhang, and S. Ted Oyama, the Fred W. Bull Professor of chemical engineering. The membrane is inorganic and makes it possible to separate hydrogen selectively from other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The hydrogen can be used as a reactant in fuel cells or can be transformed into commercially important chemicals. The invention has been licensed to ConocoPhillips.

Human health

Karen Brewer, professor of chemistry, and Shawn Swavey, former research scientist in Brewer's lab who is now an assistant professor at the University of Dayton, received a patent for "Supramolecular Complexes as Photoactivated DNA Cleavage Agents" (6,962,910). The complexes function when activated with low energy visible light with or without oxygen. An intended application is to deliver metallic complexes directly to cancer cells to avoid the side-effects of chemotherapy. The worldwide patent rights have been licensed to Theralase Technologies Inc. of Toronto, Canada, whose patented laser device will provide the low energy visible light to activate the metallic complexes.

Amine Compounds and Inhibiting Neurotransmitter Reuptake Divisional (6,914,080, a division of 6,700,018), developed by Paul Carlier, associate professor of chemistry. Chemicals called neurotransmitters mediate neuron-to-neuron communication in the brain. An imbalance in the amount of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine can cause serious clinical manifestations such as depression and anxiety. Such an imbalance may occur when not enough neurotransmitter is made and released from presynaptic neurons, or if the reuptake of neurotransmitters by these presynaptic neurons is too rapid. The patent describes amine compounds that have the unusual property of potently inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Current FDA-approved antidepressant drugs do not exhibit this wide-spectrum behavior. Thus the compounds described in the patent may be useful for treating classes of depression and anxiety that are resistant to existing medications. The patent is assigned to VTIP and the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

A "Method and Overhead System for Performing a Plurality of Therapeutic Functions Within a Room" (6,870,673) was invented by Archie Cromer, former adjunct faculty member in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and Bonnie Johnson of Washington, D.C., who received her master of science in industrial design in 1999 and was a research associate in the college. The system provides different kinds of light for comforting a person who is confined in a hospital. Also, for a patient's enjoyment or even non-drug therapy, the invention provides a system to display images on an overhead canopy. Cromer now operates Sustainable Environments for Health and Shelter Inc. of Harwood, Md.


A Fourpoint Antenna (6,842,141), invented by electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. graduate Seong-Youp Suh, and Warren Stutzman, electrical engineering professor emeritus and former director of the Virginia Tech Antenna Group. The invention is an antenna with nearly constant impedance and pattern over a large frequency range, making it ideal as a base station antenna for covering multiple frequency bands. In addition, the Fourpoint antenna is dual polarized, a desirable characteristic for base station antennas with diversity reception. It is a low-profile antenna that is smaller than conventional antennas that cover just one frequency band.

A Method and System for Overloaded Array Processing (6,868,133) was invented by former graduate students James Hicks and Saffet Bayram; Jeffrey Reed, professor of electrical engineering; and Robert Boyle, a former research faculty member in electrical engineering. The invention addresses the problem of signal overload of antenna arrays used for wireless communication. The invention reduces the computation time and energy required for processing signals by determining a hierarchy and pathways for processing signal sets. Hicks received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and master of science degree in mathematics from Virginia Tech in 2003 and is now with Aerospace Corp. Bayram received a master of science degree in electrical engineering in 2000 and is with Motorola.

Researchers from engineering, physics, and chemistry have invented a process for creating thin films that could be used to produce ever smaller telecommunication devices such as those that convert electrical signals from computers and telephones into optical signals that are the backbone of internet communication. Kevin Van Cott, former faculty member in chemical engineering; James Heflin, associate professor of physics; Richey Davis, associate professor of chemical engineering; and Harry Gibson, professor of chemistry, have received a patent for "Polar Ordering of Reactive Chromophores in Layer-By-Layer Nonlinear Optical Materials" (6,953,607). The process creates thin films with light-absorbing characteristics desirable in electro-optic modulators and frequency doubling devices that make high speed communication possible. "We believe this process will be the basis for new materials that will readily surpass state-of-the-art materials currently used in electro-optic modulators," says Davis.


A raspberry plant named "Jaclyn," (PP15,647), created by the late Herbert Stiles, who was a small fruit researcher at Virginia Tech’s Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone. He and colleagues at the University of Maryland and University of Wisconsin developed a number of raspberry plants with different attributes for different parts of the country which they named for their wives and daughters, `Anne`, `Caroline` and `Josephine`. The latest, Jaclyn, is a new and distinct primocane fruiting red raspberry capable of producing fruit much earlier than standard cultivars. It has consistently large, dark, long conic and very symmetrical fruit. Fruit aroma is very full and fruit quality is excellent through even high temperatures. Jaclyn got its start in University of Maryland's greenhouses. It was developed by Harry Swartz, associate professor of natural resource science, and Joseph Fiola, Senior Agent and Regional Extension Specialist, Viticulture & Small Fruit, of Maryland, Stiles, and Brian R. Smith, small fruit breeder at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. The patent is assigned to the University of Maryland at Riverdale, University of Wisconsin, and VTIP.

A new variety of soft red winter wheat, Renwood 3260 (200,400,286), was developed by the Virginia Tech Small Grains Breeding and Genetics Program. Carl Griffey , professor of crop and soil environmental sciences, said, "Renwood 3260 has higher protein content and more gluten strength, compared to traditional soft wheat varieties. Its flour can be used in blends for making cracker and bread products." Renwood Farms Inc. of Charles City, Va. is marketing it.

Vibration, noise control

An Active-Passive Distributed Absorber for Vibration and Sound Radiation Control (6,958,567), by professor Chris Fuller of mechanical engineering and Pierre Cambou of Lyon, France, who received his Virginia Tech master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1998. In addition to passive sound dampening of noise and vibration, the invention senses vibrations and has a mechanism for feedback control of the vibration absorber using a control signal. It is suitable for use in aircraft, automotive, and other applications with vibrating panel-like structures.

Semiconductor lithography

Ferroelectric Emitter (6,885,138), invented by In Kyeong Yoo of Yongin, Korea, who received his Ph.D. at Virginia Tech in materials science engineering in 1990 and was a research scientist in materials engineering. The invention is a multi-layered emitter that can be used in a semiconductor lithography. It offers uniform electron emission from wide and narrow gaps of a mask layer and in an isolated pattern such as a doughnut shape for ferroelectric switching emission lithography. It has been licensed to Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.

For more information about patents at Virginia Tech, visit Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc.