Iowa State University


Martin Jischke, President, (515) 294-2042
John McCarroll, University Relations, (515) 294-6136


AMES, Iowa -- An ultrafast DNA sequencer that could help reveal the genetic code of life, a carbon-in-ash monitor that could help curtail pollution from coal-fired power plants and a process for making magnet material have won 1997 R&D 100 Awards. These technologies were developed at Iowa State University.

Iowa State's three 1997 R&D 100 Awards ranked second only to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the number of winners by an educational institution, said Tim Studt, editor-in-chief of R&D Magazine, which sponsors the awards competition.

"We are extremely pleased with three R&D 100 Awards," said Iowa State University President Martin Jischke. "These technologies show that Iowa State and Ames Lab researchers are tackling the tough, economically important issues.

"We are very proud of the individuals who have won these awards," Jischke added. "They are examples of the innovative spirit at Iowa State University, and they remind us that an important aspect of science is the ability to take a concept and make something useful out of it -- to make it into a technology."

The R&D 100 Awards program, now in its 35th year, honors the top 100 products of technological significance that were marketed or licensed during the previous calendar year. All of the 100 award winners will be honored at a banquet in Chicago on Sept. 25.

The three 1997 R&D 100 Awards bring the total to 18 awards given to Iowa State since 1984.

Genetic reader

The ESY9600 Multiplexed Electrophoresis DNA Sequencer was developed by Edward Yeung, an ISU distinguished professor of chemistry and Ames Lab program director for Physical and Biological Sciences. The sequencer could play a pivotal role in efforts to sequence the genetic make up of humans, called the human genome. Ultimately, the technology could help treat such diseases as AIDS and cancer, or lead to important advances in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, Down's Syndrome and other genetic disorders.

The key to Yeung's device is that it can read DNA sequences much quicker than other systems. For example, it would take conventional equipment up to 1,000 years to sequence the entire three-billion base pairs that make up the human genome. When scaled up, Yeung's device could produce raw data fast enough to read the entire genome in 68 days.

The system can detect, monitor and quantify materials 24 times faster than existing DNA sequencers. The sequencer uses a laser with a supersensitive video camera, and is a combination of several technologies on which Yeung holds patents. The instrument combines laser microfluorescence with capillary electrophoresis, two analytical chemistry methods for determining the minute components of a substance.

The technology has been licensed to Premier American Technologies Corp., Bellefonte, Penn.

Coal combustion monitor

A carbon-in-ash monitor was developed by Robert C. Brown, an ISU professor of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, and director of the Center for Coal and the Environment, and former graduate assistant David Waller. The monitor uses a low-power laser to heat carbon in an ash sample. The heated carbon produces a minute sound wave in the air space above the sample, which is detected with a sensitive microphone. In essence, the photoacoustic device listens for carbon in coal ash.

High carbon levels in ash indicate poor plant efficiency, resulting in additional use of fuel and higher emissions of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide. Excessive carbon in ash also prevents plants from selling the ash to secondary markets, forcing the plants to pay high landfill costs.

Since coal is the most commonly used fuel to generate electricity (57 percent of the electricity in the U.S. and 85 percent in Iowa is generated from coal), even small improvements can have a major impact on fuel costs and pollution emissions.

The technology has been licensed to Ametek Inc., Pittsburgh.

Improved magnet-making

Researchers at the Ames Laboratory teamed up with scientists at the Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratory (INEEL), Idaho Falls, to develop a new alloying method for making permanent magnet material. The nanocrystalline composite coercive magnet powder could lead to improved magnets for use in energy efficient motors for industrial, automotive and consumer applications.

The researchers are Bill McCallum, Ames Lab senior materials scientist and ISU adjunct professor of materials science and engineering; Matt Kramer, Ames Lab scientist and ISU adjunct associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Kevin Dennis, Ames Lab assistant metallurgist. The INEEL team included Daniel Branagan, an ISU graduate, Timothy Hyde and Charles Sellers.

The method produces

alloys that are suitable for gas atomization. The ability to produce a powder while maintaining the hard magnetic properties of the alloys and improving processability is a significant accomplishment since current commercial rare-earth permanent alloys lose their hard magnetic properties when atomized. Gas atomization methods make possible high-volume, low-cost production to meet the rapidly growing market demand for uniform magnet powder.

The Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy lab that is operated by Iowa State for the DOE. The Center for Coal and the Environment and Ames Lab are part of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology, a federation of research, technology development and technology transfer entities at Iowa State University.

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