Professors receive Inventor of the Year recognition

Sarah White

The professors responsible for two of the most significant inventions developed at UT received Inventor of The Year Awards on Tuesday from the Office of Technology and Commercialization.

Engineering professor John Goodenough received recognition for helping to develop lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and engineering research professor Adam Heller received recognition for developing a painless blood-glucose monitoring device. The office also recognized the 48 faculty members who received patents in the last year during the first award ceremony.

Goodenough’s lithium-ion rechargeable batteries have allowed the miniaturization of common electronic devices such as cell phones and computers. He said he appreciates being recognized for his inventions, but he hopes his legacy will be that his research helped connect the fields of physics, chemistry and engineering.

“The University has to have a culture of interdisciplinary communication, which can be hard to foster,” Goodenough said.

He said he has studied and taught in all three fields because he believes the work of individual faculty members is necessary to achieve this cooperation between fields.

Heller also said he recognizes the need for interdisciplinary communication in the research process.

There are no longer any products which a single industry can design and manufacture,” Heller said. “Sometimes making a product is a balance between making room for someone else to do their job and still retaining enough room to make your decisions.”

Heller said he especially appreciates the research freedom he has been given at UT.

“At the University of Texas, we are more open-minded about what the colleague can do than at any other university,” Heller said.

Heller said this freedom to work in research that is more practical than academic allows professors opportunities to teach their students useful skills.

“If a company wants to make a product, our [engineering] students are under high demand because they operate in the real world,” Heller said. “We are not necessarily the best at abstract concepts. We may not produce a lot of professors, but we certainly produce a lot of CEO’s.”

Heller said the Cockrell School of Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the nation because of the educational philosophy of professors and their dedication to teaching students through the research process.

“The first thing I tell my students is that our final objective has nothing to do with our research. Our final objective is our product, and the research may or may not be the tool necessary to attain it. This principle is rare in academia,” Heller said.

Richard Miller, associate vice president for research, said the Office of Technology and Commercialization is responsible for campus wide patenting and licensing.

“We as a university have a very important role in affecting society. That’s why celebrating invention is important,” Miller said. “Fifty years from now, I would like to see us recognizing the 50th inventor of the year.”