Nanotech invention with potential to shrink industrial sensor costs wins New Jersey patent award

Written by
Staff, Corporate Engagement and Foundation Relations
Nov. 3, 2021

Hultmark and team latest from Princeton to be recognized with award from R & D Council of New Jersey

Princeton University and a team of inventors led by Professor Marcus Hultmark have won a 2021 Edison Patent Award from the Research and Development Council of New Jersey. The award-winning invention could have a big impact on the many industries that rely on sensors.

Hultmark, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, along with Clayton Byers, Yuyang Fan, and Matt Fu, all Ph.D. students in his lab at the time of the invention, are recognized for their patent that details a technique to measure fluid velocity and create small, easy to make, and inexpensive sensors. Hultmark has said that this nanotechnology invention could reduce the cost of sensors widely used in industry from thousands of dollars to under a dollar. Their patent, “Elastic Filament Velocity Sensor” (U.S. Patent 10,539,443), is recognized in the enabling technology category.

All of the 2021 Edison patent award winners will be honored at a November 18 gala. This year’s patent awards ceremony will include a special tribute to New Jersey’s COVID-19 response.

University History with Edison Awards

The R & D Council of New Jersey annually honors the best patented innovations in the State of New Jersey with its Edison Patent Awards. Winners are selected based on the significance of the problem addressed, its utility/socioeconomic value, novelty and commercial impact. Through the years, Princeton has been well represented with leaders, inventors and inventions that make a difference in people’s lives.

Leading creation of a supportive environment for research and innovation

In 2019, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber was recognized as the Educator of the Year for his role in connecting University research to real-world problems and solutions. In announcing the award, Kim Case, the council's executive director, noted that, under Eisgruber’s tenure, “Princeton’s innovation impact is building exciting momentum, with the potential to benefit the economy, attract talent and continue New Jersey’s legacy as a supportive environment in which to advance research and development.”

Smart windows reduce energy consumption, increase comfort

In 2020, Professor Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo and researchers Nicholas Davy and Melda Sezen-Edmonds received an Edison award in the energy category for their patent related to photovoltaic devices. Andluca Technologies, a Princeton University spin-out, is commercializing the patented transparent solar cell as the onboard power supply for a smart window. This smart window will decrease building energy consumption while increasing the comfort of people. Loo is the Theodora D. '78 and William H. Walton III '74 Professor in Engineering and a professor of chemical and biological engineering. Davy, who is CEO of Andluca, and Sezen-Edmonds, now a researcher at Bristol Myers Squibb, were graduate students in Loo’s lab. Their patent is “Single-Junction Organic Photovoltaic Devices Having High Open-Circuit Voltages and Applications” (U.S. Patent 10,476,018).

Flash nanoprecipitation improves delivery of therapeutic drugs throughout the body

Robert Prud'homme and Brian K. Johnson hold their Edison Patent Award

Robert Prud'homme (left) and Brian K. Johnson received an Edison Patent Award in 2018 for developing a scalable method of producing nanoparticles called "flash nanoprecipitation." Photo courtesy RDCNJ

In 2018, Robert Prud’homme, professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Brian K. Johnson of Merck, were recognized for their patent covering a scalable method of producing nanoparticles. Nicknamed “flash nanoprecipitation,” the technology most notably can be used to improve the delivery of therapeutic drugs throughout the body. Flash nanoprecipitation has promising applications in fields such as pharmaceuticals and biologics, including in vaccine delivery, as well as in medical imaging, herbicide and pesticide production. In 2020, Princeton University honored Prud’homme with the inaugural Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation; Prud’homme delivered his honorary lecture on the topic of flash nanoprecipitation. The patent recognized with the Edison award is "Process and Apparatuses for Preparing Nanoparticle Compositions with Amphiphilic Copolymers and Their Use" (U.S. Patent 8,137,699).

Award-winning patent marks first time sound is used to control lens for imaging and materials applications

In 2017, a team led by Professor Craig Arnold was recognized with the first Edison award ever given in the technology transfer category. Their patent is believed to be the first instance of sound being used to “make a controllable lens for imaging and materials processing applications.” The technology allows for faster and more accurate lens reflex. Arnold, director of the Princeton Institute of Materials and the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and former student Christian Theriault cofounded TAG Optics to further develop and commercialize the lens. The Princeton spin-out was acquired by Mitutoyo Corporation in 2016. Arnold, Theriault, and former Princeton researchers Euan McLeod and Alexandre Mermillod-Blondin are co-inventors on the patent, “Tunable Acoustic Gradient Index of Refraction Lens and System” (U.S. Patent 9,256,009).

Patent awards for inventors from Princeton Plasma Physics Lab showcase discoveries stemming from fusion energy work

Inventors from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory also have a history of success with the Edison awards on patents related to the Lab’s work in fusion energy, plasma science and technology.

In 2020, Samuel A. Cohen, Gary A. Pajer, Michael A. Paluszek, and Yosef S. Razin of PPPL received a patent award in the emerging technology category for a nuclear fusion-powered rocket propulsion system that has potential applications for deep-space exploration. The conceptual system utilizes a dense ionized plasma that holds itself together and produces a fusion reaction to propel the rocket. Their patent is “Method and apparatus to produce high specific impulse and moderate thrust from a fusion-powered rocket engine” (U.S. Patent 9,822,769).

In 2017, Manfred Bitter, Kenneth Hill and Philip Efthimion of PPPL received a patent award in the imaging systems category for an X-ray imaging apparatus that could be used to produce the next generation of integrated circuits. This next-gen technique of lithography uses extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light, or soft X-rays, to densely imprint information onto computer chips, increasing their potential speed up to ten-fold. Their patent is “Objective for EUV Microscopy, EUV Lithography, and X-Ray Imaging” (U.S. Patent 9,329,487).

Finally, in 2016, Charles Gentile, Adam Cohen and George Ascione of PPPL received a patent award in the medical technology category for an on-demand method to produce technetium-99m (Tc-99m), a vital medical isotope. Their patent is “Production of Radionuclide Molybdenum 99 in a Distributed In Situ Fashion” (U.S. 9,318,228). Molybdenum-99 decays to Tc-99m, which is essential for diagnosing diseases such as heart disease and breast cancer and is used in about two-thirds of all diagnostic medical isotope procedures in the United States. The patented refrigerator-sized device allows for on-site production of Tc-99m in a hospital or doctor’s office, eliminating the need to transport the device over great distances.