From Tim Meyer: Supporting Fermilab’s S&T beneficial impact on society

Tim Meyer

I’m writing this column to launch a monthly feature that will highlight the different members of the Technology Engagements team here at Fermilab and how we can work with you to advance Fermilab’s mission of discovery science and innovation.

You have heard about several ways that Fermilab has helped respond to the challenges of COVID-19. Our colleagues have had great success, such as providing computational power to COVID-19 researchers around the globe and individual contributions of Fermilab personnel to develop the Mechanical Ventilator Milano, a low-cost ventilator. There is more we can do to encourage invention and expand our efforts to identify, protect, and develop important intellectual property stemming from work at Fermilab that can be licensed to industry, leading to new products, new services, new companies, and new jobs.

If you have an innovative idea, invention, or intellectual property (IP) connected to your work at Fermilab, you should contact the Fermilab Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer (OPTT). They can help you protect your idea or invention and determine if your technology might be applied outside of the laboratory. If your idea is not related to your work at Fermilab, you are still encouraged to contact OPTT, although any resources and work should be on your own personal expense and time.

As an example, Sujit Bidhar is a Fermilab employee and inventor on the path to commercialization with his patent-pending electrospinning system, which was originally developed to develop new target materials for future physics experiments. As a potential spin-off, the team has recently been exploring if the technology can be used for the filter media in protective masks.

Arden Warner is another example.  In 2010, the Secretary of Energy put out a call to all lab researchers for ideas that could address the BP Oil Spill. At Fermilab, Arden Warner developed the concept for a novel electromagnetic technology for cleaning oil spills.  Working with OPTT, Fermi Research Alliance obtained a patent on the technology. Later, using his personal time and private funding, Arden established a new company called Natural Sciences LLC. Natural Sciences now holds multiple patents of its own in the field of environmental remediation and has additional patents pending on its technologies.

A third technology is the Ghost Train Generator, invented by Fermilab employee Derek Plant who drew on technical know-how he gained as a technician at Fermilab. This is an inexpensive, effective device to reduce collision incidents related to vehicles stuck on railroad grade crossings. This invention has captured the attention of the public.

In addition to identifying and protecting IP, Fermilab also seeks to develop technologies and explore novel applications of its expertise to challenges faced by regional industry. IARC at Fermilab is a tip of this spear and has been focused on integrating lab advances in accelerator technology into a new platform that might address key bottlenecks in industry ranging from water treatment to medical-device sterilization and invasive-species control. Recently, the team has been engaging with the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning groups at the lab to explore opportunities related to these technical strengths.

Fermilab as a whole is helped by developing and protecting IP because it demonstrates how our science can lead to new technologies, providing applications outside of particle physics. When we can tell the stories of how investment in Fermilab can lead to broader applications, we can increase public support for our scientific mission.

Finally, by way of this column, I welcome our fourteen colleagues who have registered for the second cohort of the Entrepreneurship & Commercialization Practicum. The program begins on July 9 and will provide our inventors — past, present, and future — with the practical training and tools to bring their inventions to the marketplace.

Stay tuned for more opportunities to innovate and invent!

Tim Meyer is the head of technology engagements at Fermilab.