Cal Poly Celebrates Six Patents for Research in 2018-19

It’s the largest number that university researchers have been awarded in a single academic year

Cal Poly recognized the record six patents faculty researchers obtained last academic year for a range of concepts including medical devices, construction and packaging materials, and a device that has the potential to bring light and electricity to people living off-grid in developing nations. From left, Jim Dunning, associate vice president for corporate engagement and innovation, which oversees the commercialization of research that takes place at the university, Andres Martinez, Chad Immoos and Phil Costanza for a pair of medical test devices; Jay Singh for a new packing material; and Taufik for a DC-DC converter.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly faculty researchers received a record six patents last academic, year for a range of concepts including medical devices, construction and packaging materials, and a device that has the potential to bring light and electricity to people living off-grid in developing nations.

“These are not continuations of patents that we’ve already been awarded. They are all original patents that we filed two or three years ago,” said Jim Dunning, associate vice president for corporate engagement and innovation — the office oversees the commercialization of research that takes place at the university.

The patents include:

Medical devices
Andres Martinez, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Science and Mathematics, received patents for two medical diagnostic inventions during the 2018-19 school year. His research group developed “Membrane-Based Devices for Multi-Step Assays,” and he teamed up with three Cal Poly professors — Phil Costanzo, Chad Immoos and his brother Nathaniel Martinez — on “Reagent-Loaded Pencils and Methods.”

The former is a paper device — no larger than a business card — that automatically mixes two fluid streams and combines a sample with test chemicals. The multi-step device uses evaporation to propel the fluid in a timed sequence necessary for a successful test, Martinez said. The device is versatile and could be used for a range of tests, from assuring water quality to testing for a specific disease using a drop of a patient’s blood. “The disease test would look a lot like the current take-home pregnancy tests, or the rapid diagnostic tests for malaria or HIV that are based on lateral flow strips,” Andres Martinez said.

Lateral flow tests are simple, paper-based devices that detect the presence of a target chemical analyte in a liquid sample without the need for specialized and costly equipment. The test liquid wicks along the surface of the paper laced with reactive molecules and produces a specific color change to indicate a positive or negative result.

In the second patent, Martinez and his collaborators developed a pencil that healthcare providers could use to easily and inexpensively test for diseases or other health conditions. Users would simply color inside the wax lines on a piece of chromatography paper with the pencil containing the reagents required for the desired test and then add a drop of blood or urine. If the paper changes color, the disease is present. The technique is well-suited for use in remote areas with limited access to electricity and refrigeration.

“The initial inspiration was to develop something that could be used in developing countries,” Andres Martinez said, estimating that the cost to manufacture each multi-step membrane would be under a dime, with similar costs to use the reagent pencil. “A single pencil lead easily could cost in the hundreds of dollars. However, we envision you could use the same pencil hundreds, possibly thousands of times — so the per-assay cost is still cents on the dollar.”

Harnessing DC power
Electrical Engineering Professor Taufik (who has one name) received a patent for “Multiple Input Single Output DC-DC Converter with Equal Load Sharing on Multiple Inputs” (or MISO)  that makes it possible to combine the input of multiple low-power electricity sources into one stronger output source. He estimates that his device (developed with former student Owen Jong, who earned an electrical engineering bachelor’s degree in 2012) could provide light to the more than 1.6 billion people living far off the grid.

MISO allows any type of low-power energy device — solar, wind, water in a stream, even human-powered generators like a bicycle — to be connected to one house to turn “multiple little sources of energy into one bigger source,” said Taufik, who has taught in the College of Engineering since 1999. He said that that residential DC power is more efficient — and cheaper.

Packing material
Jay Singh, who directs the Packaging Program in the Orfalea College of Business, received a patent for “System, Method and Apparatus for Making and Using Flex Column Void Based Packing Materials.”

Each paper-based device, made from die-cut sheets, forms a three-sided column with a triangular cross-sectional shape, and an open top and bottom. The shape and the paper can compress for different loads.

“It’s a greener substitute for polystyrene packing peanuts,” Dunning said. “It’s like an origami-shaped box with little perforations and holes you would throw around the item into the main packaging box. They are all the same geometric shape and they interlock to provide a protective cushion. It’s really pretty cool.”

A new grout
Professor Craig Baltimore, who teaches in the College of Architecture and Environmental Development’s Department of Architectural Engineering, received a patent for a “Method for Self-Consolidating Grout.”

Dunning said this special aggregate blend, which includes the waste by-product slag, “is easy to mix, easy to apply and will setup faster.”

It has many potential applications such as for constructing cinderblock sound walls that deaden the traffic din in neighborhoods adjacent to freeways.

“The grout allows the builder to basically put up a wall in less time,” Dunning said. “It’s a labor-saving device. It’s self-consolidating in that the way the formula is cooked up doesn’t require some of the more labor-intensive activities.”

Reclaiming missing data
Assistant Professor Erin Pearse, who teaches in the Mathematics Department in the College of Science and Mathematics, was part of a team that received a patent for “Iterated Geometric Harmonics for Data Imputation and Reconstruction of Missing Data.”

“It’s a way to reconstruct video images basically,” Dunning said. “It’s essentially a software algorithm and system. If you have video footage that is of good quality and then you have 10 to 15 seconds where you have bad video quality followed by more good video quality, the algorithm can kind of predict what that damaged section might look like and stitch together those things.

“You could use this for reconstructing security images and surveillance video that has been damaged. It could be used for predicting other things as well. It’s in the realm of machine learning and artificial intelligence for images.”

End of a multi-year process
Dunning said that obtaining a patent takes several years to achieve, and the six patents granted in the 2018-19 academic school year speaks to the breadth and scope of research and innovation activities ongoing at Cal Poly.

“I think each of these patents is a product of the faculty members recognizing that there’s a need out there for new ways of doing existing things and using tools that are a part of their backgrounds,” he said. “They saw a need and just started to develop new tools based on what’s happening in the marketplace.

“These are all a result of practical applications but we found a new and unique way to get a better result. These are all following the Cal Poly tradition of being very applied. They are all in response to applying a new technique or applications to make something more accessible.”

Cal Poly faculty members (from left) Phil Costanza, Chad Immoos and Andres Martinez, all from the College of Science and Mathematics, celebrate after being honored by the university for receiving two patents for medical test devices.
Cal Poly faculty members (from left) Phil Costanza, Chad Immoos and Andres Martinez, all from the College of Science and Mathematics, celebrate after being honored by the university for receiving two patents for medical test devices.

In photo at the top, Cal Poly recognized the record six patents faculty researchers obtained last academic year for a range of concepts including medical devices, construction and packaging materials, and a device that has the potential to bring light and electricity to people living off-grid in developing nations. From left, Jim Dunning, associate vice president for corporate engagement and innovation, which oversees the commercialization of research that takes place at the university, Andres Martinez, Chad Immoos and Phil Costanza for a pair of medical test devices; Jay Singh for a new packing material; and Taufik for a DC-DC converter.

Contact: Jim Dunning
805-756-5551; jdunning@calpoly.edu

February 5, 2020

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