Cal Poly faculty and student inventions could impact your life
By Stacia Momburg
Cal Poly is known for having some of the brightest and most academically motivated students in the state and for its faculty’s commitment and dedication to student success.
Not so widely known is that some of those faculty and students have invented tools with the potential to make a real difference in our world.
The California Central Coast Research Partnership – or C3RP – under the direction of the Research and Graduate Program Office, is Cal Poly’s home to these devices. Jim Dunning is the C3RP project administrator who works to market the patents held by the university. Cal Poly holds 11 patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Among those inventions are a flexible fastener that could revolutionize seismic retrofitting and human joint replacement; a way to purify water in disaster areas; and a way to track produce from grower to shelf, to battle against contamination.
Making Buildings Quake-Safe
Mechanical Engineering professor Saeed Niku developed the Flexible Fastener, which received a patent in 2005. The fastener looks like an ordinary nut-and-bolt combination. What sets it apart is a flexible shank that can be made from any strong yet pliable material such as Kevlar, nylon, steel cable or rope.
The threads encircle the core material and are bonded to it at two ends, and a bolt head is added. The fastener holds items together and can be tightened, like a regular bolt. Unlike a regular bolt, though, the fastener can bend and move with whatever it is holding together.
The ability to move laterally makes it ideal in construction and seismic retrofitting. It can connect non-parallel surfaces and can be used to repair products and structures with unaligned holes. It also can be used for earthquake retrofitting, to allow more lateral motion in quake-resistant building materials.
The fastener also is ideal for use in medical applications, such as artificial knee replacement, in which bending is desired between body components while they remain attached.
3In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Trygve Lundquist, a Civil and Environmental Engineering professor, and his students developed the idea of a lightweight water treatment system that could be easily distributed to and used by disaster survivors to treat available water regardless of its quality.
Cal Poly received a patent on a Field Water Purification System in April 2009. The system is the brainchild Lundquist, students Steve Barr and Dan Frost, and former grad student Tricia Compas, who worked on creating a tangible system as part of her graduate thesis.
Their system includes a packet of PUR “Purifier of Water” that can treat 2.5 gallons of water, a cylindrical plastic waterbag, backpack-like straps to transport the system, and a spigot to access the treated water. The beauty of the system is that the water is sealed off and stays clean.
The Clinton Global Initiative and the Walmart Foundation awarded Compas $14,500 for the invention. In addition, Cal Poly received $25,000 from the National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Alliance to further develop usability and effectiveness and work on plans for manufacturing and a corporate infrastructure for the product.
“The U.S. Military is interested in testing the system for use in military disaster relief, ease of use and drinkability of treated water,” Dunning said.
Tali Freed, a professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, developed the technology for a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag that helps growers track food when it’s shipped to distributors.
The RFID, for which Cal Poly received a patent in June 2009, is unique in that it can be hermetically sealed to remain intact long term on reusable plastic containers.
Farmers produce a paper barcode tag that can be affixed over the RFID chip. The tag peels off during the tote sterilization process, and the RFID chip remains on the tote. After each use, a new tag is reprogrammed in the field to match assigned produce barcodes and is affixed over the RFID chip.
The technology allows farmers to track shipments from field to store shelf. If a shipment is contaminated, the farmer can determine where contamination may have occurred to mitigate contamination of future shipments.
Dunning said he’s working to license the product to large-scale produce industry. “Retailers tell us they really like the idea and want growers to use the technology,” he said. “We’re trying to find a creative way to market this to some of our industry partners.”
For more information about C3RP and Cal Poly’s current and pending patents, visit www.c3rp.org/technologies%20available.htm