Virginia Tech students and faculty are propelling technologies from the lab into the world through commercialization and new ventures.  

Researchers who have advanced the innovation ecosystem by disclosing technologies, been named on issued patents, and achieved special milestones over the past year were honored at the inaugural Celebrating Innovation event, held recently at the Moss Arts Center.  

The Virginia Tech inventions highlighted span a wide array of technology areas, including those related to vaccine development, cyber solutions, communications and advanced manufacturing technologies, and antimicrobial films that suppress the transmission of deadly diseases.

Hosted by Research and Innovation and LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH, Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for Innovation and Partnerships, kicked off the event. In her remarks, she celebrated the work of researchers who make the extra effort to ensure their work is given a chance to be translated to markets, where it can have economic and human impact. She charged attendees to celebrate each other and engage with her team. 

“Bring us challenges, and we [LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH] will help navigate the complex process of commercialization — from technology disclosure to intellectual property management to marketing to licensing and start-up creation,” said Salmon.

Despite complications for research due to the pandemic last year, the Virginia Tech research community disclosed over 140 new inventions, executed almost 30 new license agreements with commercial partners, and created seven new faculty-led start-up companies. Two new training programs, LICENSE Tech Transfer Bootcamp and LAUNCH Start-up Labs, are offered for faculty and students interested in learning more about technology transfer and start-up creation.

President Tim Sands, who is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, said, “An avenue of service that is becoming more central to the charter of land-grant universities is that of economic development. Technology licensing is one of the primary ways that we can turn the amazing work occurring at Virginia Tech into products and jobs that improve the lives of those around us.”

Later in the evening, University Distinguished Professor Roe-Hoan Yoon was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Dan Sui, senior vice president of research and innovation.  

“A National Academy member, Dr. Yoon’s 40-plus-year tenure at Virginia Tech has included several successful commercial endeavors. Clean coal technology that benefits the environment and our economy has been at the forefront of his work,” said Sui, who is also the university’s chief research and innovation officer. “With 40 patents and over 300 technical papers to his name, Dr. Yoon embodies the cooperation between academic research and innovation.”

The following Virginia Tech researchers were honored:

Lifetime Innovator Achievement Award

Roe-Hoan Yoon

A National Academy member, Yoon is also a University Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Advanced Technologies. He is internationally known for significant contributions to technology and science of mineral processing, fine particle flotation, column flotation, chemistry of sulfide mineral flotation, fine particle dewatering, and colloid and surface chemistry. With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, Yoon developed and patented the microbubble flotation process, which has been marketed commercially under the name Microcel. The coal industry regards it as one of the best technologies in separating fine particles. In addition to his commercialization success, the Nicholas T. Camicia Professor has published more than 280 technical papers and is credited to over 40 patents. To date Yoon has produced 27 Ph.D.s, and 10 of them are teaching at other universities.

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Commercialization Champions

The category recognizes Virginia Tech faculty members who embody the spirit of innovation and have played an outstanding role in supporting technology translation through technology licensing.  

XJ Meng

National Academy member and University Distinguished Professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Meng is a world-reknowned virologist and vaccinologist whose inventions have been commercialized by animal-health companies such as Zoetis Inc. His research focuses on emerging and reemerging viral diseases that impact veterinary and human public health, specifically focusing on hepatitis E virus, porcine circovirus type 2, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. A fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Meng’s work includes over 350 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 22 issued U.S. patents, and 17 pending U.S. patents.

Roe-Hoan Yoon

In addition to his National Academy of Engineering membership, Yoon has been successful in the creation of commercial partnerships. Companies, such as FLSmidth, Minerals Refining Co., and Grimstone Mining, have licensed technologies from his lab and invested capital in his research. Since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 1979, Yoon has generated millions of dollars in licensing revenue and sponsored research support.

Rafael Davalos

The L. Preston Wade Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, Davalos develops biomedical devices to diagnose cancer and stimulate the body’s cancer-fighting immune response. Davalos’ work has resulted in the founding of CytoRecovery, which licensed a Davalos Lab microfluidic technology that selectively separates different kinds of cancer cells found in tumors, enabling more more effective treatments. Among his many accolades and awards, Davalos holds 37 patents, which have been licensed to five companies, including several startups.

Start-up Builders

The category celebrates inspiring Virginia Tech researchers who are visionaries, pursuing start-ups that have potential for societal and economic impact.

William Ducker

Ducker is a professor of chemical engineering who leads the Ducker Research Group, which focuses on surface chemistry, interfacial science, and microbial interactions with solids. An author of over 130 publications, Ducker developed a novel antimicrobial film used to suppress transmission of microbial diseases by continuously inactivating microbes without human intervention within minutes. With this technology, Ducker formed Ducker Film Technologies, which is commercializing coatings to fight deadly diseases.

John Robertson

Honored in two categories, Robertson’s research interests include the diagnosis and treatment of kidney failure, aggressive malignant neoplasms, and the development of novel biomedical devices. The author of hundreds of publications and more than 60 patent applications, the research professor in biomedical engineering and mechanics also created a startup —  DialySensors Inc. — based on a technology that detects bladder cancer and other ailments related to the treatment of kidney disease. Many pharmaceutical corporations, including Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and Wyeth, have benefited from Robertson’s innovative work.

Robert Gourdie

Gourdie, the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar in Heart Reparative Medicine Research and director of the Center for Vascular and Heart Research of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, is the first Virginia Tech researcher to receive an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health. He has founded or co-founded three start-ups, all based on his cutting-edge research. First String Research has three active ongoing clinical trials. Tiny Cargo Co. and Acomhol Research are Gourdie’s newer start-ups  that are working to revolutionize drug delivery and glioblastoma treatment. He is also member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics of the College of Engineering.

Tim O'Shea

O’Shea, research assistant professor in the Intelligent Systems Lab at the National Security Institute, is working to build wireless systems for 5G and beyond by leveraging machine-learning and data-centric design at the physical layer. Focused on advancing wireless communications with machine learning and data, O’Shea co-founded DeepSig, a start-up that develops AI/ML software components and products to improve commercial and private wireless communication systems including 5G OpenRAN and 6G prototype systems as well as wireless sensing systems. He is the inventor of over 50 patents in this emerging technology area.

2021 National Academy of Inventors

The National Academy of Inventors recognizes and encourages inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhances the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourages the disclosure of intellectual property, educates and mentors innovative students, and translates the inventions of its members to benefit society.

Alan Michaels, fellow

In the latest class, Michaels, director of the Spectrum Dominance Division at the National Security Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech, was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. Michaels leads research and workforce development in digital communications, SIGINT, RF machine learning, EW, quantum algorithms, and automotive cybersecurity applications. Michaels is the inventor of 44 awarded U.S. patents with approximately 80 more international issuances. In addition, his patents have been licensed to six companies and directly to the U.S. government. Soon, he will be adding the Ford Motor Co. to that list through a joint submission with Virginia Tech that brings enhanced security to intra-vehicle communications.

Chris Williams, senior member

The L.S. Randolph Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, Williams was recently named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors. Williams, a pioneer in the field of additive manufacturing, is the director of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems Laboratory. Williams has discovered dozens of new materials for 3D printing and developed several process innovations, increasing functionality and performance on advanced manufacturing. Williams has over 50 U.S and international patent applications and more than 10 licensing agreements with companies ranging from local start-ups to large corporate research partners such as Michelin, Northrop Grumman, Solvay, Zoetis, and Procter & Gamble.

John Robertson, senior member

Robertson was named as a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors, which is a step toward becoming a fellow, the academy's highest distinction. A result of hands-on exploration gave Robertson a love of creating and experimenting with innovation. Watching and caring for his mother, who had diabetes, high blood pressure, and a terminal brain tumor, motivated him to find tools to solve real problems. Robertson and colleagues have developed the use of energy-based therapies for treating previously untreatable cancers, such as brain and liver tumors. Two of these energy-based therapies — electroporation and focused ultrasound — have been the basis for U.S. patents.

Inspiring Innovators

The category celebrates individuals who disclosed technologies to explore commercial applications. Through their enthusiasm, optimism, and vision of the future, they are inspiring the next generation of inventors.

Daphne Yao

Yao, the Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. '56 Faculty Fellow and CACI Faculty Fellow, has an expansive research portfolio that includes building cyber defenses and machine learning for digital health with a shared focus on accuracy and deployment. One of her latest disclosures is an insider threat-detection algorithm, which monitors the behavior of organization members and recognizes deviant behavior that might be a threat to information security. Yao’s patents on anomaly detection are extremely influential in the industry, cited by 220 patents from major cybersecurity firms and technology companies, including FireEye, Symantec, Qualcomm, Cisco, IBM, SAP, Boeing, Bank of America, and Palo Alto Networks.

Catherine Freed

Freed is a biochemistry postdoctoral associate who has made contributions in the plant science field by enhancing phosphate uptake and developing phytoremediation strategies using plants. Freed’s inventions involve both mitigating phosphate fertilizer pollution by increasing plant phosphate accumulation in agricultural and aquatic environments as well as decreasing dependence on mineable phosphate reserves through converting enriched plant material into a sustainable, carbon-negative fertilizer. She is an inventor on four patent applications and has recently been awarded a proof-of-concept grant to explore commercial applications.


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