Purdue University Celebrates Innovation

Lafayette, Ind. — Purdue University students are creating and patenting products while pursuing their degrees.  Purdue is celebrating the inventiveness of five of those students: Julia Alspaugh, Zachary Amodt, Sean Connell, Andrew Glassman and Anne Dye Zakrajsek.

Julia Alspaugh, a mechanical engineer in her second year as a master’s student, researches biomedicine.  She says, “I see mechanical engineering as a broad field that analyzes the world’s processes and how the machinery and technology that makes them work can be simplified and improved.” 

Julia is part of a large, interdisciplinary team seeking numerous patents related to the use of novel, resorbable biomaterials to create fixation devices for next-generation orthopedic devices, such as the plates, pins and screws used to set broken limbs or repair damaged tissues and joints.

“These devices would provide support while the bone and joint healed, for example, then degrade within a few years without leaving any foreign or potentially toxic materials in the body,” she explains.  “It’s a similar concept to the dissolving stitches now used in many dental surgeries, but on a larger and more complex scale.”

For Julia, the most surprising thing she’s encountered in the patent process is unrelated to engineering or biomedicine.  “Learning how to make sure what we are working on is novel and patentable has been more challenging than expected,” she says. “It may be an awesome new technology, but we also have to keep in mind its marketability.  It requires communication between many different people with different interests and ways of doing things.”

Zachary Amodt dropped out of school to join the military after September 11, 2001.  Ten years later, he returned and is now holding a provisional patent inspired by his experience as a combat medic in war zones all over the world.

Necessity inspired Zak’s invention, the suspected-orthopedic-fracture splint (SOF splint). “I was the primary medic on a drop zone for airborne operations when I realized that the splints we had in our med kit were inadequate,” he says. “That is when I started working on this idea.”

“Creating a device that helps wounded individuals in a pre-hospital environment, that is fast, light, portable and still works even if you were to put bullet holes in it.  Yes, you can shoot it and it will still function.”

Zak doesn’t consider himself an inventor as much a person with lots of ideas.  “I have always had ideas, but it took a long time for me to realize I had the ability to make them happen.  It took several years in the military for me to gain the confidence necessary to initiate the process of manufacturing and selling a product.  I feel that there are many students and young adults who have terrific ideas, but who don’t realize they have what it takes to make them a reality.”

His preliminary patent was applied for in November 2011 and his full patent application was submitted November 2012.

Sean Connell is a doctoral student in biomedical engineering.  His story began with a friendly conversation with a fellow doctoral student, Jianming Li, by a cotton-candy machine in one of Purdue’s labs.  What started as a discussion about healing wounds led, by the end of that year, to filing for a patent for a breakthrough method for killing germs and promoting wound healing.  In early 2011, they took their new product on the business plan competition circuit, where only the most marketable ideas survive.

Sean and Jianming’s technology addresses the growing number of deadly “superbugs” resulting from antibiotic-resistant fungi, viruses and bacteria strains.  “We developed an antimicrobial nanobubble that fuses with the microbe and destroys its cellular membrane, instantly killing the pathogen,” Sean says. “Our technique is unique because it doesn’t rely on antibiotics, which have resistance issues, or biocides, which are potentially toxic and present numerous health hazards.”

“Biomedical engineering fills my passion for the life sciences while also giving me the opportunity to apply it to real-world situations,” says Sean. 

Andrew Glassman, an MBA student with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, had fallen prey to the same annoying, low-tech problems with smartphones that countless others have: unwieldy, easy-to-lose but not easy-to-use headphone cords that become knotted and tangled in pockets, purses and backpacks. So, Andrew invented a fix.

Although Andrew had been pondering problematic cords on his own for some time, a team project for a new product development course in an MBA program at Purdue gave him the opportunity to put his ideas into action.

Dubbed the DogBone Wrap because of its shape, Andrew’s invention uses the charging port on the new iPhone as a fixture for securing the device, which is shaped like a dog bone and allows users to securely wrap their headphone cables. “It’s portable, simple and easy to detach when not in use,” he says.

Andrew pursued his MBA to complement his penchant for inventing.  “I’m a very technical person.  I thought I was a mechanical engineer who just wanted to design and make cool products,” Andrew says.  “I was also a little naive. I learned quickly that there was much more to it, and that if I wanted to successfully run my own company someday, I needed the full-circle view that only a business education can provide.”

Finally, the Purdue site calls Anne Dye Zakrajsek, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, the personification of student inventors at Purdue.  A mechanical and biomedical engineering senior design project that she developed and facilitated helped create a custom-fitted prosthetic, which now enables a young boy to run, play and ride his bike.  Her master’s work with redesigned helmet padding is aimed at better protecting football players and soldiers from brain injury.  However, her greatest invention to date may be the educational path and future career she is creating in assistive-technology-device design.

“It’s awesome just to know that you are part of a long line of inventors that have come from Purdue,” Anne says.

“When I realized that engineers can have a direct impact on solving biomechanics and medical problems that currently don’t have a solution, I knew biomechanics was a good fit for me.  Ultimately, I chose the area because I want to help people.  Being an inventor never crossed my mind.  But certain classes at Purdue and research opportunities encouraged and fostered the creativity that leads to innovation and patent pursuit.”

Anne worked with Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization, which walks students and faculty through the process of provisional patents and full patent conversions.  She applauds the University’s support of student inventors.  “The ability to hold rights to anything invented while at Purdue is appealing to any student trying to make his or her mark on the world.  Simply knowing that opportunity exists further encourages innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization,” she says.

For more details, see: http://www.purdue.edu/fivestudents/.

Practice Tip:  The Indiana Intellectual Property Law Blog congratulates these five young inventors — and all innovators, young and young at heart — and wishes them much success in their future endeavors!

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