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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 25, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 31
Applied Physics Laboratory Names Inventions of the Year

By Kristi Marren
Applied Physics Laboratory

A system that helps the body absorb drugs more effectively, technology that immerses viewers in 3-D displays and laser beams that enhance the security of optical communications were announced April 21 as APL's Inventions of the Year. The event, held in the Kossiakoff Center, showcased technologies submitted in 2004 that were developed by APL staff.

Top inventions in Physical Sciences and Information Science were selected by a panel of 20 representatives from industry and patent law based on benefit to society, improvement over existing technology and commercial potential. APL also presented a new award, Innovative Contributions to the Military, which was chosen from inventions submitted in the past five years.

Wayne Swann, APL director of technology transfer, and Robert Pirie, former secretary of the Navy (acting), presented plaques and cash awards to teams in the three categories.

The award in Physical Sciences went to a microwave/radio frequency energy-assisted drug delivery device invented by Henry Kues and Eric Van Gieson. The two have developed a way to increase the effectiveness of medications while reducing negative side effects using a handheld microwave transmitter to enhance drug absorption.

The transmitter emits microwaves (or radio frequency) energy that can temporarily make blood vessels more permeable, possibly by opening gaps in the capillary walls, resulting in quicker drug absorption. Enhanced absorption could allow doctors to use less medication, especially when treating areas of the body that are resistant to drug therapy, and to better target drug delivery.

This research is especially important when dealing with brain-related disorders because the brain is protected by a blood barrier that allows few molecules to cross it. Only small, fat-soluble molecules can breach the barrier, but some of the most promising medications for neurological disorders and brain cancer are large-molecule drugs. By relaxing the brain's protective barrier, drug therapy could possibly be used in place of more invasive procedures.

Sometimes standard methods of drug delivery, such as pills taken orally, do not work. For example, peptide, protein and DNA therapies require a delivery system that puts medication in the blood stream rather than the stomach, where it would probably be digested before it could produce the desired result. Microwave-assisted drug therapies open options for a wider range of medications in this and similar situations.

In the category of Information Science, Jerry Krill was recognized for his 3-D display with walkthrough and "virtual visitation" features for command and control centers, teleconferencing and personal communication.

Krill has created a concept for making the viewer an interactive part of 3-D technology using liquid crystal display goggles that could have military, medical and gaming applications. The technology marries cutting-edge wireless and bandwidth capabilities with next-generation optics and displays, pulling the viewer "inside" the scene of whatever environment or program the system is running.

The LCD goggles include a fiber optic camera to pick up directed images, a wireless antenna for transmitting and receiving high data rates, partially mirrored lenses and driver for a distant focused display imager and an earplug millimeter wavelength transceiver and command computer with eye-pointing menu and audio capability.

Originally designed for use on military battlefields, the technology could improve awareness of the surrounding environment and provide better communications between dispersed units. It could also enhance current two-dimensional video-conferencing.

The winner in Innovative Contributions to the Military is an apparatus and method for providing secure multichannel optical laser communications. Matthew Bevan, Bradley Boone, Ann Darrin, Donald Duncan and Raymond Sova have created a more effective and robust way to secure optical data links using narrow multiple laser beams to send and receive data, and microelectro-mechanical systems technology for accurately verifying the source of the transmission.

The very high bandwidths used by existing optical communications networks make it hard to guarantee security, but this new system transmits and receives data in a very precise method that is less vulnerable to jamming or interception. Narrow, multichannel bandwidths also allow for independent control of each optical channel while significantly reducing the chance that neighboring laser communications channels or unintended sources (jammers) could cause interference.

Innovations in the system enable the use of narrow beams thanks to components that are cheaper and weigh less than the ones used in current systems. The APL system is also easily scaled to large numbers of independent communications channels.

This new optical architecture makes secure multisatellite, multisite terminals possible, provides more accurate pointing of data streams from moving satellite platforms and reduces the mass, power and volume required to support multichannel optical communications.


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