Penicillin, the wheel, contraceptives, the light bulb, and the internet.

What do these items have in common? They are among some of the most famous inventions that changed the world.

Home to a number of serial inventors with nearly 1,000 inventions under active management in wide ranging areas of science and technology, Virginia Tech is making major contributions to the innovation ecosystem. With discoveries ranging from quantum computing and vaccines to assisted devices and new varieties of wheat to feed the global population, Virginia Tech research is impacting the world.  

“Every day, Virginia Tech researchers are conceptualizing and developing game-changing inventions that offer new and creative ways to address society’s most critical challenges,” said Brandy Salmon, associate vice president for Virginia Tech’s Innovation and Partnerships. “Over the last 12-month period, our researchers disclosed over 160 new inventions, which equates to about one every other day. This continual stream of new ideas perpetuates our existing portfolio of over 900 active technologies that are in various stages of maturity. Last year, this portfolio yielded over 30 licenses and gave rise to 10 new ventures.”

A critical step in bringing an invention to market in the commercialization process is for faculty to disclose inventions to Innovation and Partnership’s LINK + LICENSE + LAUNCH team. Specifically, LICENSE offers top-tier technology commercialization services to support licensing of technologies to existing companies and promote start-up formation. LAUNCH works directly with faculty and graduate students to shape ideas and discoveries and bring key resources to innovators seeking to start new companies.

Currently, 62 Virginia Tech inventors hold 10 or more disclosures, while 17 inventors are lead on 20 or more disclosures. The following is just a sampling of the legacy of this vast expertise.

Measurement of Loop Gain with the Digital Modulator, disclosed in 1984, is the title of oldest disclosure held by Fred Lee, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering. A world-renowned power electronics expert and a National Academy of Engineering member, Lee made measurable contributions to the field of power electronics related to inventions during his tenure. This included filing nearly 300 invention disclosures with over 100 patents awarded.

Retired Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty member Carl Griffey holds over 100 disclosures. An expert small grains breeder in the Eastern United States, Griffey directed one of the few highly regarded breeding programs in the nation. This established Virginia Tech as a powerhouse in new wheat variety development, resulting in nearly 100 barley and wheat varieties now grown in several states. Today, the legacy of this work is continued by Nicholas Santantonio, assistant professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, who focuses on integrating the latest genotyping and phenotyping technologies to accelerate genetic improvement of wheat and barley for new and changing environments.

Working in his Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory, Virginia Tech inventor and biomedical engineer Rafael Davalos has generated an array of cutting-edge technology that directly impacts the lives of cancer patients and their families. Notably, Davalos developed a technique that treats cancers near critical structures in the body that are difficult to reach with surgery. The minimally invasive technology delivers low-energy electric pulses to destabilize the membranes of targeted cells, leading to their destruction. Altogether, he currently holds 43 patents, has launched four startup companies, and technologies have generated an upwards of $100 million in sales.  

In December, Davalos was named a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow, joining an elite group at the university which includes Virginia Tech President Tim Sands; X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology; Roe-Hoan Yoon, University Distinguished Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering; Alan Michaels, director of the Spectrum Dominance Division at the National Security Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Lee. Senior NAI members include Virginia Tech researchers Chris Williams and John Roberston.

Also named NAI Fellow in 2022, Yoon holds 33 U.S. patents. He 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 for separating fine particles. Director of the Center of Advanced Separation Technologies, Yoon is an internationally recognized researcher and inventor who has made significant contributions to advance the technology and science of mineral processing, fine particle separation and dewatering, column flotation, chemistry of sulfide mineral flotation, fine particle dewatering, and colloid and surface chemistry.

A National Academy of Sciences member and world-reknowned virologist, Meng is an inventor of 20 awarded and 17 pending U.S. patents on vaccines and diagnostics of several virus diseases. His accomplishments include the discovery of new viruses and the development of licensed commercial vaccines against important animal virus diseases. He also is working to develop broad-protective coronavirus vaccines which are important in preventing future pandemic.

Michaels is the inventor of 44 awarded and four pending 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. An expert in the area of secure communications, Michaels is best known as a software-defined radio architect. His work has helped develop novel low probability of detection communication capabilities for the U.S. military, while building situational awareness of adversary communication capabilities. Most recently, he began working with Ford Motor Co. to enhance security for intra-vehicle communications.

Virginia Tech inventor Daphne Yao, the Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. '56 Faculty and CACI Faculty fellow in the Department of Computer Science, develops new models, algorithms, techniques, and deployment-quality tools for securing large-scale software and systems, with research focused on improving information security. One of Yao’s 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. Her work on anomaly detection has contributed to over 200 patents from major cybersecurity firms and technology companies, including Qualcomm, Cisco, IBM, Boeing, and Bank of America.

For more information on how to disclose new technologies and inventions, contact the Innovation and Partnerships team.

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