Professor Lands Big Patent on Small Technology
If you’re well-versed in the ideas of carbon fiber foam composites and creating nanofibrous carbon components, you will be pleased to know that Millersville University assistant professor Dr. Mark Atwater received a patent for a technology he co-invented in the field. If you’re (understandably) lost, you may want to read on.
“The invention is a process to create bulk components from nanoscale fibers,” said Atwater. If you’re still not following exactly what Atwater’s invention does, consider a comparison to help clear things up a little more.
“The process itself is similar to what happens in your car’s exhaust, specifically the catalytic converter,” said Atwater, assistant professor of applied engineering, safety and technology. “The catalytic converter takes gases coming from the engine that may be harmful and converts them to different gases that are less problematic. The patented process involves flowing a carbon-containing gas over a catalyst, but instead of changing it to another gas, the carbon is deposited in the form of fibers…the carbon is controlled and …the fibers “grow” until they fill the mold. After the mold has been filled and the millions of individual fibers are entangled, the carbon acts a single component, similar to steel wool. No one had yet developed a method for creating bulk (visible and useful) components from these fibers directly during the growth process.”
After spending countless hours in the observation stage while doing graduate work at the University of New Mexico, Atwater worked for four years on growing the nanofibers in hopes of studying their properties. “I figured that if I enclosed them on all sides, they might stick together better,” said Atwater. “I took some discarded equipment in the lab to create a quick, cheap way of testing that hypothesis. It worked!”
He worked alongside his thesis advisor, Dr. Zayd Leseman, and a co-advisor from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Dr. Jonathan Phillips, to develop the technology and get the resulting patent. Atwater and his associates received a notice on March 25 that patent for their technology was approved.
“Honestly, I feel relieved,” said Atwater.
Though the patent itself is quite an accomplishment, Atwater is far from finished with his work on carbon nanofibers.
“Obviously, this has been a long road… [but] this project is not done. The patent is validation that it can be valuable, but making it better is something I am still very active with.”