Newswise — Virginia Tech researchers received 24 patents in 2003, including a gel that will allow women to discreetly control their fertility and reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases.

Faculty members, staff, and students who earned the patents will be honored by the university and Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. (VTIP). Mike Martin of Blacksburg, VTIP executive vice president, said, "These patents represent a significant resource for economic development."

Patents were awarded for power electronics for fuel cells and computers, new materials, sensors, a method for drying wood; plant varieties, and human health-related discoveries, including a spermicide that also prevents disease.

Human health

Prashant Savle, a former Virginia Tech research scientist now at Avecia in Wilmington, Del.; Virginia Tech Chemistry Professor Richard Gandour of Blacksburg; and Gustavo Doncel of the Contraceptive Research and Development (CONRAD) Program at Eastern Virginia Medical School have received patent 6,656,936 for "Carnitine Analogues as Topical Microbicidal Spermicides." The product can be used to coat vaginal contraceptive devices, such as diaphragm, cervical cap, sponge, and condoms, "but the goal was to develop a product for topical application for use by women who are in circumstances or cultures where they can't insist upon or do not have access to other forms of birth control or prevention against STDs," said Doncel. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the research.

Gandour became aware of carnitine, a muscle chemical, when he was doing research to develop medicines for non-insulin dependent diabetes. "We made this analog and, from its chemical structure, knew it could be a spermicide," but it was expensive and tedious to prepare from the natural product, (R)-carnitine, Gandour said. "Dr. Savle designed and executed the brilliant synthesis from inexpensive, synthetic compounds and asked Dr. Doncel to test the compound," said Gandour.

"The idea was to make a product that would be cheap enough for the USAID to be able to purchase for free distribution," said Savle.

Kensa Inc. of Ithaca, N.Y. licensed the technology. They have been developing it as a preservative for consumer products, primarily cosmetics, and are marketing it through Viral Therapeutics Inc. as Vagiprev (, with spermicidal, anti-STD and anti-fungal (yeast) activity to combat HIV, Chlamydia, Candida, and other infectious agents.

Other health-related patents include a method for introducing toxins to cancer cells and a method for creating human proteins, for pharmaceutical purposes, in the milk of transgenic animals.

Brian Storrie of Little Rock, Ark., former professor of biochemistry at Virginia Tech and now professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Arkansas Medical School; Maria Teresa Tarrago-Trani of Blacksburg, Virginia Tech research scientist; and Sam English of Roanoke, research projects manager at Carilion Biomedical Institute, received patent 6,631,283 for "B/B-like fragment targeting for the purposes of photodynamic therapy and medical imaging." The invention is a method of delivering a photoactive drug to cancer cells by attaching the drug to a toxin that recognizes a specific receptor on cancer cells. The researchers identified a non-toxic subunit of a protein produced by E. coli bacteria as the vehicle to deliver the drugs because it binds to the cancer cell and causes it to ingest the entire toxic package. The toxin-photoactive drug conjugate can be activated by light to kill the cancer cell without causing damage to healthy tissue. The method can also be used to attach "visualizing" agents to cancer cells for use with imaging technology, such as a CT Scan or X-ray, to aid in cancer diagnosis, assessment of metastasis, or during surgery.

Henryk Lubon of Rockville, Md. (deceased) and William N. Drohan of Springfield, Va., both formerly of the American National Red Cross, and William H. Velander, a former Virginia Tech professor of chemical engineering who now chairs the chemical engineering department at the University of Nebraska, received patent 6,518,482 for "Transgenic non-human mammals expressing human coagulation factor VIII and von Willebrand factor." The invention is a process for the production of clinically useful quantities of human factor VIII (F8) protein in the milk of transgenic animals. F8 is a critical component of the cascade of coagulation reactions that lead to blood clotting and is deficient in patients having hemophilia A, the most common form of hemophilia in males. Concurrent expression of a gene for human von Willebrand's Factor into milk may be used to stabilize newly secreted F8 and also to treat the leading cause of hemophilia in females. The patent was assigned to the American National Red Cross and VTIP. It is licensed by ProGenetics LLC.


Mitzi Vernon of Christiansburg, associate professor of industrial design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, and Tanya Blasko, who received her master's degree in industrial design in 2002 and is now with Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati, received design patent D469,605, for a book bag for children that allows them to read books while traveling. (Photos are available at - 88 KB, - 436 KB, and - 304 KB) "It has a detachable wallet that holds the book itself. A book can be read without removing it, and kids can have multiple wallets with different books in them," said Vernon, who also designed the books as part of her National Science Foundation-funded interCONNECTIONS® project. She created a book series to help middle school girls connect to abstract phenomena at an early age, thus allowing them more accessibility and comfort in scientific and engineering fields. "The books explain abstract concepts, such as magnetic fields, through metaphor and imagery, which is more familiar to children," Vernon said. The books and book bag are marketed by Vernon's company, Off-The-Page works®, Inc. (

Power electronics and controls

Two patents were awarded to researchers in the Center for Power Electronic Systems at Virginia Tech " one that will speed the transition to fuel cell power systems and one that improves the efficiency of computers.

Lizhi Zhu of Westland, Mich., a scientist with Ballard Power Systems; Jin-Sheng Lai of Blacksburg, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE) in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech; and Fred C. Lee of Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of ECE at Virginia Tech, received patent 6,587,356 for a "Start-up circuit and control for high power isolated boost DC/DC converters." The technology solves a problem with a transition between power sources in electric or hybrid electric/fuel-cell engines. Such engines have dual-voltage power systems — 12-volt systems for lights, sensors, and controllers and higher (usually 300 v) systems for the traction inverter and motor. Energy transfer between the two voltage systems requires an effective bi-directional DC/DC converter. The present technology is subject to energy current spikes when transferring the energy from low-voltage DC to high-voltage DC, which is hard on the switches. Also, the transition from low to high voltage can fail to meet start-up needs. The patented technology provides a system to build up voltage for start up and equalizes input and output voltages. Since the patented converter also eliminates the need to match characteristics of multiple controllers, it significantly reduces the cost associated with implementing this type of technology.

Xunwei Zhou of Fremont, Calif., who received his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Virginia Tech in 1999 and is now at is now at Linear Technology in Milpitas, Calif., and Fred Lee, received patent 6,590,791 for a "High input voltage, high efficiency, fast transient voltage regulator module (VRM)." The technology was the subject of Zhou's Ph.D. research. He explained in his dissertation that to meet demands for faster and more efficient data processing, modern microprocessors are being designed to operate on lower voltage. Therefore, microprocessors need aggressive power management, special power supplies, and VRMs that provide lower voltages with higher currents and fast transient capabilities. The patented technology provides high efficiency and fast transient-response for data processing, communication, and portable applications or other low voltage, high current load applications. And it is cost effective. The patent has been licensed to Delta and National Semiconductor.

Newly patented control systems will improve the loading and unloading of shipboard cargo and dampen vibrations in panels in many environments.

Ali Hasan Nayfeh of Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of engineering science and mechanics (ESM) in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech; Dean Tritschler Mook of Blacksburg, ESM professor emeritus; Ryan James Henry of Annapolis, of Northrup Grumman; and Ziyad Nayif Masoud of Blacksburg, ESM assistant professor, received patent 6,631,300 for "Nonlinear active control of dynamical systems." Cargo oscillation control is necessary for safe and fast crane operations. For trans-oceanic transportation, container ships are one of the most cost-effective manners of shipping cargo. However, many localities do not have large ports or proper facilities to load and unload cargo. A crane ship is used to transfer the cargo from large container ships to smaller ships that can reach a particular port. The wave-induced motion of the crane ship can produce large oscillations of the hoisted cargo, halting operations. The invention is a feedback control system for reducing oscillations of payloads on cranes mounted on moving platforms, such as ships and barges, and truck-mounted cranes, as well as other crane systems. The control system calculates and adds small correction signals to the operator inputs, based on the payload oscillations and the motion of the platform.

Francesco dell'Isola of Rome, a professor at the Università di Roma, Italy, and an adjunct professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech; Stefano Vidoli of Fregene, also a professor at the Università di Roma; and Edmund Henneke II of Blacksburg, associate dean for research and graduate studies in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, received U.S. patent 6,546,316 for a "Two dimensional network of actuators for the control of damping vibrations." Control of vibrations of structural panels is a major issue, particularly in the automobile and aerospace industries. Recent developments in piezoelectric (PZT) actuator technology have made conceivable the use of such actuators for damping and control of mechanical structural vibrations. However, prior use of these devices required high input power in concentrated zones, optimal location of both actuators and sensors, and a control algorithm that coordinated the actuator actions in response to the input from the sensors. The invention provides an interconnected distributed network of actuator devices for the control of damping vibrations in two-dimensional mechanical structures. The patented system exploits an interconnection among actuators to form a continuous electric network. The system dampens vibration 10-times faster than single actuators over a broader frequency range, requires lower performances of the actuators, and does not require an external power supply, since it can transform mechanical energy to electrical energy.


Virginia Tech researchers have developed a new membrane for separation of hydrogen, for use in fuel cells; a protective coating for glass and metals; a process for nano-scale lithography; a new method for preparing high molecular weight, easily processed polyimides; polymers for optical and ophthalmic parts that can be injection molded; and an easy method to determine the properties of elastomers.

S. Ted Oyama of Blacksburg, the Fred W. Bull Professor of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Environmental Catalysis and Nanomaterials Laboratory at Virginia Tech, and Anil K. Prabhu of West Palm Beach, Fla., who received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech, received patent 6,527,833 for a "Hydrogen-selective silica based membrane." The patent is the first of a series of patents that describes a new type of inorganic membrane that is used for the separation of hydrogen from other gases. It is unique in having both very high permeability and selectivity. The membrane has applications in the production of hydrogen for chemical and fuel uses, in particular for fuel cells. The patent has been licensed to ConocoPhillips, which is developing the technology for commercial use.

Garth Wilkes of Blacksburg, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, Chenghong Li, who received his master's and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry in the College of Science from Virginia Tech and now works at Corning in Wilmington, N.C. received patent 6,506,921 for "Amine compounds and curable compositions derived there from." The patent deals with new chemical formulations for developing clear, hard, protective coatings for plastics and metals. "These coatings provide abrasion and scratch resistance," Wilkes said.

In Kyeong Yoo of Yongin, Korea, who received his Ph.D. in 1990 from Virginia Tech in material engineering science and was a research scientist in the College of Engineering until 1993, received patent 6,566,666 for a "Method and apparatus for pyroelectric lithography using patterned emitter." The apparatus allows electron emission suitable for nano-scale lithography. A pyroelectric emitter is patterned using a mask. 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. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. has an exclusive license for this technology.

James McGrath of Blacksburg, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and colleagues received two patents.

McGrath and Sue Mecham of Blacksburg, now at Polymer Solutions of Blacksburg, received patent 6,569,984 for a "Method for making polyimide." Polyimides are used in flexible printed circuit boards, adhesives, and matrix resins for composites, films, and coatings. The invention is a new method for preparing high molecular weight, easily processed polyimides, resulting in the control of such properties as the glass transition temperature, solubility, and melt processability.

H.K. Shobha, former Virginia Tech postdoctoral associate who is now a consulting process engineer at IBM T.J.Watson Research Center at Yorktown Heights, NY; Venkat Sekharipuram, who received his Ph.D. in 1994 in chemistry from Virginia Tech and is now at Johnson & Johnson in Roanoke, Va.; McGrath; and Atul Bhatnagar, now at Solvay Advanced Polymers of Alpharetta, Ga., received patent 6,653,439 for "High refractive index thermoplastic polyphosphonates." These polymers are particularly useful for optical and ophthalmic parts, such as lenses. A method of preparing optical and ophthalmic lenses by injection molding these polymers into the form of the lenses is also provided. The patent was assigned to Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., and to VTIP.

David Dillard of Blacksburg, director of the Center for Adhesive and Sealant Science and professor of engineering science and mechanics in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech; former Virginia Tech researchers Didier Lefebvre of Mundelein, IL., now at Abbott Labs, Chicago, and Jang-Horng Yu received patent 6,578,431 for a "Method and apparatus for determining bulk material properties of elastomeric materials." Elastomers and gel-like polymers are widely used as sealants, damping materials, sensor components, or structural elements. The mechanical design and application of an elastomeric material often depend on its bulk material properties, but the experimental determination of these properties is a delicate and difficult task. Accuracy typically requires expensive instrumentation and the experimental procedures are prone to error. The patent is for a method and apparatus that provides improved accuracy and reproducibility for measuring the bulk material properties of an elastomeric material. The patented technique will provide crucial experimental data for designers and engineers who use gel-like polymers or elastomers as their structural components or sensing materials. The technique offers easier sample preparation and data acquisition. And the device uses inexpensive, commercially available sensors.


Carvel Holton of Blacksburg, a senior research associate in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, received three patents for sensors.

Patent 6,534,977 for " Methods and apparatus for optically measuring polarization rotation of optical wavefronts using rare earth iron garnets," was awarded to Paul Duncan of Airak in Vienna, Va., Holton, and Richard O. Claus of Blacksburg, the Lewis A. Hester Professor of Electrical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. The invention is a fiber-optic and thin-film based sensor for measuring magnetic fields, electrical current, or temperature fluctuations. It is more sensitive and easier to use than present technology used by the military, power companies, and the motor control industry. It is also smaller due to the small size of the optical fiber. It is inert, which allows use in potentially explosive environments. And it can be remotely positioned from the signal processing equipment. The technology has been licensed by Airak.

Holton received patent 6,608,669 for a "Quadrature processed LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system," an optical system for transmitting a laser signal to an object and receiving a Doppler frequency-shifted signal from the object for velocity measurement purposes. Applications include vibration sensing, turbulence sensing, and velocity LIDARs, such as police radar, relative motion sensing, optical air data systems, or any type of linear velocity, tangential velocity, or spin sensing.

Holton's third patent is 6,621,561 for a "Doppler rotational velocity sensor." Present technology for measuring the rotational velocity of an object often requires contact with the surface of the object, or is restricted in the size of the rotating plane. Holton's sensor uses a beam of light to determine translational velocity and rotational velocity simultaneously, and is compact and cost effective. Applications include sensing the speed of platforms and objects, volumetric/fluidic flow sensing, vibration monitoring, and range to target and other related standoff sensing applications where rotation of the object is to be measured, such as the revolutions per minute of a motor or propeller.


University researchers received plant protection patents for a delicious new blackberry, several productive varieties of wheat, and Virginia Tech's first new barley in several years.

A team of researchers from three states were awarded patent PP13,878 for a new blackberry cultivar named 'Chesapeake', which produces very large fruit in the spring midseason. The berries are also very flavorful, even when the fruit is immature. Chesapeake was developed by Harry Jan Swartz of Laurel, Md., small fruits breeder at the University of Maryland, College Park; Joseph Fiola of Keedysville, Md., small fruits specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research and Education Center; the late Herbert Stiles, of Blackstone, Va., who was the long-time small fruits specialist and associate professor with Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackstone; and Brian R. Smith of River Falls, Wisc., small fruit breeder at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. The patent has been assigned to both the University of Maryland at College Park and to VTIP.

Carl Griffey of Roanoke, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received Plant Variety Protection Certificates for four wheat varieties and one barley variety. The Tribute (Certificate No. 200,300,113) and McCormick (200,300,115) wheat varieties are the newest "all stars," said Griffey. "They are sisters, from the same cross. Tribute produces wheat more suitable for crackers while McCormick makes better cookies and cakes (pastries).

"Tribute produces one of the highest grain volume weights, or test weights, of the cultivated varieties. That means a bushel of grain will be heavy," he said. It is high yielding and suitable for conventional or no-till cultivation, widely adapted the soft red winter wheat region and has received interim registration for marketing in Canada. Except for soil borne mosaic viruses, it has broad disease resistance, Griffey said. Both Tribute and McCormick have moderate resistance to Fusarium head blight or scab, which devastated wheat crops on the east coast last year.

Tribute is being marketed by Royster Clark. This year is its first year of commercial production and it returned $66,000 in royalties from seed sales.

McCormick, which will be available this fall, is a public release marketed through Virginia Crop Improvement Association. It shares the advantages of Tribute, having broad resistance to insects and disease. Notably McCormick is resistant to soil borne viruses and has moderate resistance to scab and stripe rust, a new disease problem that has become prevalent in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Wheat variety 38206 (200300112), marketed exclusively by Southern States as SS560, is a high-yielding, full-season wheat with good straw strength, which makes it good for intensive management. It is moderately short and moderately resistant to a number of diseases. It is being grown in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri.

Pearl wheat (200,300,114) is the first soft, white winter wheat released by Virginia Tech and is being marketed by the Michigan Crop Improvement Association. Pearl matures earlier and has better test weight than many of the current soft, white winter wheat varieties, Griffey said.

Price Barley (200,300,132), marketed by the Virginia Crop Improvement Association, has high test weight and good straw strength. It was named for Allen Price of Blacksburg, who worked in the small grains breeding program at Virginia Tech for 40 years and who "essentially ran the barley breeding programs prior to his retirement," Griffey said.

Pest control

Edwin Lewis of Blacksburg, assistant professor of entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, received patent 6524601 for "Formulated arthropod cadavers for pest suppression," an "environmentally sound and economically practical strategy for the control of the significant insect and mite pests of pecan," according to the Agriculture Research Service (ARS). Annual pecan production value in the United States averages $260 million, but up to 90 percent of the crop can be lost due to insect damage, reports the ARS. Laboratory research indicated that a beneficial insect-killing nematode (a species of microscopic round worm) would kill adult pecan weevils. These strains may represent an environmentally friendly control strategy to reduce or replace chemical insecticide for pecan weevil suppression. Insect-killing nematodes are usually applied in water, but ARS scientists in collaboration with H&T Alternative Controls LLC and Lewis determined that superior pest control can be achieved if the nematodes are applied in their infected hosts' cadavers - that is, by using infected mealworms as Trojan horses. Wood products

Chen Zhangjing of Blacksburg, a research specialist in the T.M. Brooks Forest Products Center in the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech, and Fred M. Lamb of Christiansburg, professor emeritus of wood science in the college, have received patent 6,634,118 for a "Method and apparatus for vacuum drying wood in a collapsible container in a heated bath." The system can be constructed to dry small or large dimension wood - from cabinet pieces to logs for homes, for instance. The vacuum system dries wood with little stress or variation in moisture content in individual boards. Zhangjing demonstrated that the vacuum system can dry red oak nine times faster than conventional drying methods. "It is simple to operate and, because only the area surrounding the wood is heated, this system will reduce equipment and energy costs," he said. The patented technology transfers heat efficiently and effectively at lower temperature so wood dries without changing color. It can also be modified to dry wood of mixed species, different thicknesses, and different initial moisture contents. The patent has been licensed to American Moistening Company (AMCO) of Pineville, N.C., which specializes in humidification technology. It is in use by a wood turning and carving company in Hickory, N.C. Zhangjing received his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in 1998.The technology was the subject of his dissertation research. Lamb, who was Extension specialist in wood products and processing, was Zhangjing's committee chair.

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