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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 26, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 32
APL Salutes 2003's Inventions Showing Greatest Potential

By Michael Buckley
Applied Physics Laboratory

A high-tech neutralization system that foils airborne pathogens, tough-but-flexible body armor and a more efficient quantum computing method are the Applied Physics Laboratory's top inventions for 2003, announced April 20 during APL's fifth annual Invention of the Year ceremony.

An independent review panel selected the winners from 139 APL inventions — representing the work of 220 inventors — based on their potential benefit to society, improvement over existing technology and commercial potential. APL Director Richard T. Roca and Wayne E. Swann, director of Technology Transfer, congratulated researchers on their work and presented trophies and cash awards to the three winning teams of inventors, in the categories of Life Science, Physical Science and Information Science.

Richard Potember and Wayne Bryden took top place in the Life Science category for developing a system to destroy airborne biological agents as they move through a building's heating and air conditioning ducts. The technology, which works without any special filtering that might impede airflow, uses a reaction chamber attached to a heating/ventilation/air-conditioning unit. The technology has been licensed to the Bio-Defense Research Group of Upper Marlboro, Md., which is using it in a system called Path-Away, designed to protect commercial-size buildings such as hospitals. Other prime candidates for the system include "sick" buildings, cruise ships, airplanes and other vulnerable settings.

In the category of Physical Science, the award went to Jack Roberts and Paul Biermann, who teamed with Richard Reidy of the University of North Texas to develop a soft body-armor vest that is light enough to prevent fatigue after considerable use and flexible enough to allow ease of movement but also rigid enough to stop automatic assault rifle bullets. The armor can be designed to fit the legs and arms in addition to the torso.

Information Science honors went to James Franson, Bryan Jacobs and Todd Pitman, who have discovered a way to significantly reduce the number of errors in quantum computing calculations. The invention is a significant step toward developing practical quantum computers, whose tremendous speed will make them invaluable in areas such as encryption and modeling and simulation.

During its last fiscal year, the APL Office of Technology Transfer completed 35 new license agreements and created three start-up companies, and the Office of Patent Counsel filed 216 patent applications and saw 22 patents issued.

In its first four years, APL's technology transfer program has executed 81 license agreements, licensed more than 100 technologies, created 10 start-up companies and secured more than $14 million in licensing and related research and development income.

For more information about APL's technology transfer initiatives, go to


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