Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
July 18, 1997

ISU technologies garner three R&D 100 awards

by Skip Derra

An ultrafast DNA sequencer that could help reveal the genetic code of life, a carbon-in-ash monitor that could help curtail pollution from coal-fired power plants and a process for making magnet material have won 1997 R&D 100 Awards. These technologies were developed at Iowa State.

With three awards, ISU ranked second only to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology among university award winners. (MIT won five awards.) R&D Magazine sponsors the competition.

"We are extremely pleased with three R&D 100 Awards," said President Martin Jischke. "These technologies show that Iowa State and Ames Lab researchers are tackling the tough, economically important issues.

"We are very proud of the individuals who have won these awards," Jischke added. "They are examples of the innovative spirit at Iowa State University, and they remind us that an important aspect of science is the ability to take a concept and make something useful out of it to make it into a technology."

The R&D 100 Awards program, now in its 35th year, honors the top 100 products of technological significance that were marketed or licensed during the previous calendar year. Award winners will be honored at a banquet in Chicago Sept. 25.

Iowa State technologies have earned 18 awards since 1984.

Genetic reader

The ESY9600 Multiplexed Electro-DNA Sequencer was developed by Edward Yeung, distinguished professor in chemistry and Ames Lab program director for physical and biological sciences. The sequencer could play a pivotal role in efforts to sequence the genetic make-up of humans. Ultimately, the technology could help treat such diseases as AIDS and cancer, or lead to important advances in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, Down's Syndrome and other genetic disorders.

Yeung's device can read DNA sequences faster than other systems. For example, it would take conventional equipment up to 1,000 years to sequence the entire 3 billion base pairs that make up the human genome. Yeung's device has the potential to produce raw data fast enough to read the entire genome in 68 days.

The sequencer uses a laser with a supersensitive video camera and combines several technologies for which Yeung holds patents. It combines laser micro-fluorescence with capillary electrophoresis. Both are analytical chemistry methods used to determine the minute components of a substance.

The technology has been licensed to Premier American Technologies Corp., Bellefonte, Pa. This is Yeung's third R&D 100 Award.

Coal combustion monitor

A carbon-in-ash monitor was developed by Robert C. Brown, professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, and director of the Center for Coal and the Environment, and former graduate assistant David Waller. The monitor uses a low-power laser to heat carbon in an ash sample. The heated carbon produces a minute sound wave in the air above the sample, which is detected with a sensitive microphone. In essence, the photoacoustic device listens for carbon in coal ash.

High carbon levels in ash indicate poor plant efficiency, resulting in higher use of fuel and emissions of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. Ash with excessive carbon can't be sold to secondary markets and winds up in landfills.

Coal is used to generate 57 percent of the electricity in the United States and 85 percent in Iowa. Even small improvements in efficiency can have a major impact on fuel costs and pollution emissions.

The technology has been licensed to Ametek Inc., Pittsburgh.

Improved magnet-making

Researchers at the Ames Laboratory teamed with scientists at the Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratory, Idaho Falls, to develop a new alloying method for making permanent magnet material. The resulting magnet powder could lead to improved magnets for use in energy-efficient motors in industrial, automotive and consumer products.

The researchers are Bill McCallum, Ames Lab senior materials scientist and adjunct professor of materials science and engineering; Matt Kramer, Ames Lab scientist and adjunct associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Kevin Dennis, Ames Lab assistant metallurgist. The Idaho team included Daniel Branagan, an ISU graduate; Timothy Hyde and Charles Sellers.

The new method produces alloys that maintain their hard magnetic properties during gas atomization. Current commercial rare-earth permanent alloys lose their hard magnetic properties when atomized. Gas atomization methods make possible high-volume, low-cost production to meet the rapidly growing market demand for uniform magnet powder.

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