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Updated 11:00 AM October 9, 2006
 

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University celebrates inventors; tech transfer growth continues

From devices and processes that produce and convert hydrogen for energy and food processing to a high-quality mold that re-creates realistic replicas of ancient mastodons, U-M inventors have done it again—and in record numbers.
Mastodon casts created by Daniel Fisher, the Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology, using a 3-D digitizer, will be one of the innovations highlighted at the Technology Transfer Office Celebrate Invention reception 3-6 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Michigan League. The annual event recognizes those involved in tech transfer, which last year included some 600 U-M faculty members. (Photo by Peter Smith Photography)

As the Office of Technology Transfer reports 288 new invention disclosures, nine business startups and 97 license agreements for fiscal 2006, the campus will celebrate the more than 600 faculty members who participated in tech transfer activities in the last year during an event 3-6 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Michigan League.

During its annual Celebrate Invention reception 3-6 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Michigan League, a number of projects will be featured, including Daniel Fisher's mastodon casts made using a 3-D digitizer and Levi Thompson's high-performance catalysts and devices that advance the University's work in the area of alternative energy.

With the help of students in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, Fisher, the Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology and a professor with joint appointments in the Museum of Paleontology and the departments of Geological Sciences and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, first developed high-tech molds to construct missing bones of the 13,000-year-old Buesching mastodon—a specimen named for the Indiana family on whose property it was discovered in 1998. Although nearly 80 percent of the bones were found, the remainder had to be reconstructed—a common practice in many museums.

Fisher says the 3-D digitization, modeling and rapid-prototyping technique he employs, which is used widely in manufacturing, offers a much better result than traditional reconstruction methods. Often in such projects those doing the work have to make assumptions about what bones look like, or they use parts from a different animal to complete the exhibit, he says. With the high-tech process and the large number of bones found from the Buesching mastodon, Fisher and his team were able to make more realistic molds.

"We have something special to offer. The quality of our casts is better because we were able to reconstruct bones based on information from a single individual," Fisher says.

After successfully reconstructing the male mastodon skeleton for display at the Exhibit Museum of Natural History in May 2005, Fisher decided other museums might benefit from the molds his team created, which is what eventually landed him in the Tech Transfer Office. One museum in Fort Wayne, Ind., which is near where the Buesching mastodon bones were found, is in the process of mounting an exhibit using the invention, and another project is under discussion. But Fisher emphasizes the small startup is not yet ready to turn out a large number of the molds. "We're in the very early stages," he says.

Thompson is no stranger to the tech transfer process. He has filed numerous patent applications since joining the Chemical Engineering department in 1988 and since serving as director of the Center for Catalysis and Surface Science, a position he has held since 2000. He is one of the College of Engineering's leading researchers in catalysis, fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.

His latest involvement with tech transfer is the formation of Inmatech Inc., a company started to commercialize technology invented by members of his research group that includes: Shyamal Bej, associate research scientist in chemical engineering; Chang Kim, research fellow in chemical engineering; William Northrop, research assistant in mechanical engineering, Jeremy Patt, currently employed at Exxon-Mobil; Andre Taylor, research investigator in chemical engineering, and William Johnson, research assistant in chemical engineering.

Inmatech is developing catalysts and devices that will produce and convert hydrogen for a number of uses in the automobile/heavy equipment, small electronics and food industries. The inventions can be used to reduce nitrous oxide from diesel engines, power portable electronic devices and produce hydrogenated oils with low trans-fatty-acid content.

"Once fully developed, we expect the products to be attractive to the market because they represent technology that is significantly better or cheaper than what currently exists," Thompson says.

U-M received $20.4 million from licensing royalties and the sale of equity during the fiscal year ending June 30, up 22 percent from $16.7 million the previous year.

"The quality and diversity of research at the University of Michigan provides great strength to our institution and to our region," says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research.

The nine new companies bring the total of U-M startups launched over five years to 43, more than half of which are businesses headquartered Michigan.

"We're very proud of this performance, as it indicates the quality of our research discoveries and the capabilities of our inventors, industry partners and tech transfer staff," says Ken Nisbet, executive director of U-M Tech Transfer. "The creativity, talent and resources of the University of Michigan are playing a significant role in the transformation of our Michigan economy and enhancing our quality of life."

The Celebrate Invention reception is free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested at www.techtransfer.umich.edu.

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