Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf named Inventor of the Year
Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, recently honored by the U.Va. Patent Foundation,
has spent 20 years working on electrical conductivity over
sliding surfaces. She has designed new electrical fiber brushes
critical to most motors and generators, an example of which
is the ring of brushes she is holding here.
By Charlotte Crystal
Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, whos been teaching physics and materials
science for more than 40 years, has been named Christopher J.
Inventor of the Year for her improvements to industrial machinery.
U.Va. Patent Foundation is recognizing her research and six patented
inventions relating to electrical brushes, simple but critically
important parts of most motors and generators. They establish
the electrical connection between an outside power source and
the rotating part of machinery, electrically linking moving and
stationary objects, such as an electric train and an overhead
a U.Va. faculty member since 1963, teaches in the physics department
and in the Engineering Schools materials science department
The creative work of Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf and her collaborators
is an inspiration to those who believe their ideas can change
the world, said Haydn N.G. Wadley, president and chief executive
officer of the U.Va. Patent Foundation.
battled for many years with those who thought they knew better,
but has convincinsgly demonstrated the originality and utility
of her approach for electric motors. This new technology, using
hair-fine metal fiber brushes, promises to transform the capabilities
of electric motors and may lead to a host of new applications,
from small actuators that can power mobile robots to electric
systems that can drive large ships.
patents build on nearly two decades of research on the physics
and materials science of electrical-current conduction across
sliding surfaces, and a search for how best to make electrical
connections between moving and static objects. Although an important
topic for industry, it has received little scientific attention.
serious drawbacks, industry has depended almost universally on
brushes made of graphite and metal-graphite composites since electric
motors and generators were developed in the late 19th century.
These brushes create a fine dust, which accumulates in machinery
and damages it a particularly vexing problem in U.S. Navy
submarine engines. Graphite brushes also wear out quickly, generate
too much friction and electrical heat and fail to generate power
as efficiently as they should, Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf said.
inventions are poised to eliminate these problems by replacing
carbon brushes with multi-contact brushes made of
various metals and alloys drawn into hair-fine fibers. Replacement
is already feasible in a variety of applications, and Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf
and her team of researchers continue to pursue a broad array of
many professional honors include selection as a fellow of the
American Physical Society, a fellow of the American Society for
Metals International, a member of the National Academy of Engineering
and a life member of the American Society for Metals International.
Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf also received the 1989 Achievement Award from
the American Society of Women Engineers and the Ragnar Holm Scientific
Achievement Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic
Engineers in 1991.
native of Germany, she received her bachelors, masters
and doctoral degrees from Gottigen University. Her publication
list of nearly 300 technical articles begins in 1947 and runs
through the present.
is a true creative genius and a delightful person, said
Robert S. MacWright, U.Va. Patent Foundation executive director.
Her ingenuity and love of science are integral parts of
her personality, which is flavored with passion and charm.
U.Va. Patent Foundation award recognizes an invention of notable
value to society. Criteria for selection include commercial success
(or potential) and the inventions value in treating disease,
protecting the environment, as a tool for research, in education
and training, in the development of a field of science or technology
or in helping the disadvantaged, the disabled and the elderly.
Patent Foundation named the Inventor of the Year Award after Christopher
J. Henderson, president and chief financial officer of Robbins
& Henderson, a New York firm specializing in financial and
related services for institutions, in recognition of Hendersons
interest in technology transfer and commitment to the University.
Established in 1992, the award program was conceived by Dr. Richard
Edlich, a professor of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering
Patent Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with
U.Va. and is responsible for licensing to business and industry
the intellectual property discovered and created in University