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U.Va. Patent Foundation Announces Award

Materials Scientist Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf Named 2001 Inventor Of The Year

May 3, 2001-- The University of Virginia Patent Foundation has named Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, a materials scientist and University Professor of Applied Science, as the Christopher J. Henderson 2001 Inventor of the Year.

Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf has been a U.Va. faculty member since 1963. She teaches in the physics department of the College of Arts and Sciences and in the materials science department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The Patent Foundation is recognizing her for her research and six patented inventions relating to electrical brushes, which are 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 electrical cable.

"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. "Doris battled for many years with those who thought they knew better, but has convincingly 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."

Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf’s 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.

Despite 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. A major drawback is the fine dust created by wear, 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.

Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf’s 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 potential uses.

Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf’s 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. The Daughters of the American Revolution awarded her their Americanism medal in 1966 and the German Society for Materials Science awarded her the Heyn Medal for her work on the theory of metal deformation in 1988. 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.

A native of Germany, she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Göttigen Unviersity. Her publication list of nearly 300 technical articles begins in 1947 and runs through the present.

"Doris 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. It is a great honor to know

her and to see her receive this award recognizing her accomplishments and her innovative spirit."

The U.Va. Patent Foundation award recognizes an invention of notable value to society. Criteria for selection include commercial success (or commercial potential) and the invention's 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.

The 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 Henderson’s interest in technology transfer and commitment to the University of Virginia. Established in 1992, the award program was conceived by Dr. Richard Edlich, a professor of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering at U.Va. Dr. Edlich presented the annual award to Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf at a dinner held in her honor this week at the Boars Head Inn in Charlottesville.

The University of Virginia 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 laboratories.

Previous winners of the U.Va. Inventor of the Year Award are:

    • 2000 -- Ronald Taylor: "Monoclonal Antibodies"
    • 1999 -- John C. Herr: "Contraceptive Vaccine for Women" and "Home Sperm Test for Men"
    • 1998 — Not bestowed
    • 1997 -- Richard Guerrant and Timothy Macdonald: "Rehydration and Nutrition Therapy"
    • 1996 -- Jessica Brand, Patrice Guyenet, Richard Pearson and Janine Jagger: "Safety Syringe"
    • 1995 -- Donald Hunt, Jeffrey Shabanowitz and George Stafford: "Mass Spectrometer"
    • 1994 -- Gerald Mandell and Gail Sullivan: "Inhibition of Inflammatory Cytokines"
    • 1993 -- Joseph Larner: "Insulin Mediators"
    • 1992 -- Robert Berne, Luiz Belardinelli and Rafael Rubio: "Adenocard"

      Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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