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December 04, 2019 | Tom Ballard

UTRF honors Peter Tsai, Alex Lewis and nearly 70 others at annual “Innovation Awards” luncheon

Peter Tsai, a recently retired research faculty member at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville, and Alex Lewis, Co-Founder of Electro-Active Technologies Inc., captured the top honors at yesterday’s “2019 Innovation Awards” luncheon.

Hosted by the UT Research Foundation (UTRF), the annual event is a recognition of researchers whose innovations lead to a better society. Nearly 70 people were honored for their contributions including several who received multiple recognitions.

Tsai (pictured right) captured the “Wheeley Innovator Hall of Fame Award” that is presented to an individual who has consistently displayed dedication and enthusiasm for commercialization and innovation throughout a career.

As noted in this recent article, UTRF and its predecessor – the UT Research Corporation – have a partnership with Tsai that spans more than 25 years. In 1995, the expert in materials science received five U.S. patents, including one for the corona electrostatic charging of nonwoven fabrics technology that is the key component in the N95 respirator that is required by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration when working in dusty environments.

In recognizing Tsai, Maha Krishnamurthy, UTRF Vice President, explained that his work has produced 12 issued patents in the U.S. and 20 license agreements.

The “Wheeley Award” is named in honor of Otto Wheeley, a 1943 UT graduate known for his passion for commercialization and entrepreneurship as well as his involvement with many East Tennessee businesses.

Lewis (pictured left), who co-founded Electro-Active Technologies with Abhijeet Borole, received the “Start-up Award.” Their new venture, focused on developing a modular system that can be placed onsite or in a decentralized location to produce renewable hydrogen from organic waste, is a member of Cohort 3 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is also supported by TVA. (Click here to read our recent spotlight on the start-up.)

For the first-time ever, the event was held in the new Student Union on campus with UT administrators, faculty and community leaders in attendance.

“Today, we celebrate all of you,” Stacey Patterson told the honorees in her opening remarks where UT’s Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Outreach cited 168 invention disclosures and 30 licenses/options executed by UTRF during fiscal year 2019. “We have much to be proud of but also much to do.”

In addition to the awards made to Tsai and Lewis, faculty and students were honored for issued patents, licensed technologies, and receipt of UTRF maturation grants. There were a number of multiple honorees including, in alphabetical order, Doug Birdwell, Stephen Kennel, Yilu Liu, Matthew Mench, Jennifer Richards, Catherine Schuman, James Swart, Tsai, Jonathan Wall, and Wenxuan Yao.

UTRF also announced that it licensed the first technology developed by students in 2019. Called the “Swim Resistance System,” the technology was developed by Kelsey McConachie, Isaac Nolan, Thao Strong and Ryan Tinker.

Patterson also took a moment to recognize Mary Ann Russell, UTRF’s Senior Staff Attorney, who is retiring this month after 27 years with the organization and its predecessor.

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