January 29, 2018

A recent technology transfer workshop at The Catholic University of America provided valuable insights for researchers interested in commercializing their scientific discoveries. The workshop, which took place Jan. 11-12, was planned by University physics professors Tanja Horn and Ian Pegg, in conjunction with researchers from the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Va., and the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Orsay, France.  

One objective of the event was to help researchers learn the skills required to monetize their discoveries.

“It’s one thing to make a discovery, but you have to understand the business side of ‘Is there really a market for this?’ and then you have to find an interested commercial partner and you need funding,” Pegg said. “I think that process is actually very mysterious to your average researcher. They’re familiar with the scientific process and research, but once you get into commercializing something, it’s a whole new education to put all those pieces together and make it work.”

The workshop began with a presentation from Ralph Albano, associate provost for sponsored research and director of technology development, who gave an overview of the University’s sponsored research and technology transfer activities. He was followed by a talk on funding opportunities from program managers at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

The general theme of the workshop was the application of detector technologies in nuclear and medical physics, national security, and next-generation civil space programs. Many researchers shared personal stories of the often-tortuous paths to commercializing scientific discoveries.

Robert Ledoux, CEO and president of Passport Systems, Inc., and a former nuclear physics professor, described his company’s path from lab to commercialization of a technology that can scan enormous cargo containers for hidden nuclear and biochemical threats in less than 2 minutes. His talk was followed by a presentation from Tom Henneberg, CEO of BNNT Materials LLC, who described the commercialization of boron nitride nanotubes, a material that is 100 times stronger than steel and can be used to vastly increase the strength of other materials.

Sebastian Procureur from the French Atomic Energy Commission spoke about his agency’s work using cosmic rays and muon tomography to scan the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Their work has made much news in the past few months after their discovery of the “Big Void,” a large empty space within the pyramid, the purpose of which is still unknown.

Several talks described work on medical applications. Ben Welch from Dilon Technologies described the development and commercialization of their systems for breast cancer imaging and biopsy and Brian Hulse from IBA, Inc. described their proton beam technologies for cancer treatment.

The workshop drew about 45 participants from the worlds of industry, national and international laboratories, academia, and funding agencies interested in new applications of detector technologies. Part of the goal for the event, said Horn, was to bring these audiences together to form new business partnerships.

“Technology transfer is all about taking this cool scientific research we’re doing and putting it into a concept that is most useful to companies,” she said. “By bringing together these communities, we can see where there’s an overlap in goals and where people can work together. That’s making progress overall for everyone.”