Wednesday, May 19, 2004

U.Va. Patent Foundation Honors Haydn N. Wadley

May 19, 2004 -- UVA Top News 

The University of Virginia Patent Foundation has named materials scientist Haydn N. Wadley the 2004 Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year. The award, which consists of a plaque and a check for $10,000, was bestowed May 17 at a dinner in Wadley’s honor at Charlottesville’s Boar’s Head Inn.

Wadley, a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science since 1988, was recognized for his path-breaking research, which has led to numerous patents (both issued and pending) for innovative materials with applications in the defense and transportation industries, and for his entrepreneurial spirit.

“In selecting a candidate for this award, the Patent Foundation’s faculty advisory committee considers a number of criteria, including researchers’ scholarship and innovations, and the novelty and potential impact of their inventions on human welfare,” said committee chairman John C. Herr, director of the University’s Center for Research in Contraceptive & Reproductive Health and himself the winner of the 1999 award.

In its deliberations, the committee also weighed candidates’ efforts to transform a research question into a commercial product, he said.

“Haydn is a good example of a 21st-century, university scientist who maintains his intense focus on fundamental research, while appreciating the practical importance of the technology he is developing,” said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation. “His work has the potential to make significant contributions both to the U.S. economy and to our national defense.”
Herr noted that potential contributions to the local economy also were a factor in the decision.

“Haydn is an example of an inventor who is working in an entrepreneurial way to form Virginia companies to keep his technology in Charlottesville so the local community can benefit,” he said.

Wadley currently has 25 patent applications at varying stages of approval, said Alan Bentley, Patent Foundation assistant director. The U.S. Patent Office can take up to five years to issue a patent, particularly when the applicant plans to secure international, as well as domestic, intellectual property protection, he said.

So far, the U.S. Patent Office has issued three patents for Wadley’s inventions, including two that relate to a new method of applying metal and ceramic coatings to various metal surfaces. The method, dubbed “atomic painting” by MacWright, can be used for coatings needed to protect industrial equipment against wear, corrosion and heat, among other purposes. James Groves, assistant professor in the U.Va. Department of Materials Science, is the co-inventor.

The “atomic painting” patents serve as the basis of one local start-up company, Directed Vapor Technologies International Inc., which was established in 2000 by Wadley’s researchers and associates.

James S. Ross, a Harvard Business School graduate, former Chrysler Corp. executive and former president of the U.Va. Patent Foundation, also was among the founders of DVTI and a second company, Cellular Materials International Inc., Wadley said.

CMI, which was established in 2001, centers on an entirely different group of research findings from Wadley’s labs.

These findings involve the development of new metallic structures that offer various combinations of attributes, such as strength, lighter weight, heat and cold exchange, and blast or impact absorption. The company is currently exploring the capabilities of two types of “cellular materials” – the first, a porous metal material; and the second, a material similar in concept to a sandwich, which has an exterior of two solid sheets of metal enclosing a metal mesh interior.

The cellular materials research, which received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, and the DOD’s Office of Naval Research, has potential applications in the defense and automotive industries, among others, Wadley said.

Harry A. Burns, the former chief executive officer of Akzo Nobel Salt, a $500 million international manufacturing concern based in the Netherlands, serves as president and CEO of both companies, which share offices on Boar’s Head Lane and manufacturing facilities on Avon Street.

Most of the employees were hired locally and many hold doctoral degrees, Burns said. DVTI has about 12 full- and part-time employees, and CMI has about eight full- and part-time employees.

The jet engine operations of Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce plc, and the French aerospace corporation, SNECMA, are customers of DVTI and are currently testing DVTI’s advanced coatings process on aircraft engine parts, especially those subjected to high temperatures, such as turbine blades, Burns said. CMI likewise has contracts with Northrop Grumman Corp., United Technologies Corp., General Motors Corp. and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research, which are testing the new materials.

Along with the local economic benefits, Wadley said there is a practical reason to create start-up companies to develop the innovations coming out of his labs.

“The typical problem in spinning off technology from a research lab is that there is a gap between the point where we want to hand off the technology and where most companies would like to see it as a potential product,” he said.

The gap can range from two to five years, he said.
Wadley’s many titles include University Professor, Edgar Starke Research Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and senior associate dean for research at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also has served on the board of the U.Va. Patent Foundation, including a stint as chairman from 1997-2001.

Established in 1982, the Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year Award was named for Dr. Richard Edlich, formerly a professor of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering at U.Va., who conceived the program, and U.Va. alumnus Christopher J. Henderson, president and chief financial officer of Robbins & Henderson, a New York financial firm, who funds it.

The U.Va. Patent Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with the University of Virginia that is responsible for licensing to business and industry the intellectual property discovered and created in U.Va. laboratories.