ORNL's Technology Transfer Division Director, Mike Paulus is responsible for ensuring that the lab's technological developments are accessible to U.S. business and industry so they can make the fullest use of the nation's investment in research and development. Paulus' team fulfills this mission by licensing ORNL technologies to industrial partners and negotiating agreements to make the laboratory's scientific expertise and research facilities available to external partners.
Before joining ORNL's Partnerships Directorate, Paulus served as vice president of product management with Siemens Molecular Imaging. He also served as co-founder (along with ORNL scientist Shaun Gleason) and CEO of ImTek, Inc., an ORNL spinoff company and market leader in computed tomography imaging. Paulus has nineteen years of experience as a research and development engineer; has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, and conference proceedings; and holds 14 patents.
We asked Paulus how his organization benefits both ORNL and its research partners.
How do partnerships between national labs and industry benefit the nation?
The U.S. government and taxpayers have made a significant investment in creating unique research facilities at the national laboratories. They expect that, as a result of that investment, the nation will be better off economically and its citizens will have a better quality of life. At ORNL, we try to create these benefits in part by licensing technological developments to companies that will convert them into products or services that will help them grow their business or start a new business. We also provide companies with access to our research staff through research collaborations, as well as through work-for-hire agreements that enable our scientists to help companies address specific technical challenges.
Our goal is to make the lab's capabilities, research and resources available to support U.S. businesses, create jobs and strengthen our economy.
What areas of R&D currently provide the greatest opportunity for partnerships?
Opportunities for partnership exist in every corner of the laboratory. However, energyrelated research is always of particular interest because it is at the core of the DOE mission and because the U.S. usually deploys its energy solutions through commercial entities. If we're going to help move the nation away from petroleum-based fuels, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and reduce our greenhouse emissions, that's going to happen in partnership with the private sector. An important part of our mission is facilitating those partnerships.
What do you see as ORNL's greatest success in partnering with industry?
There is no single example that's head and shoulders above the rest. Our best license in terms of units sold is a composite of aluminum oxide and microscopic silicon carbide whiskers we licensed to Advanced Composites Material Corporation in 1986. This material was used to manufacture cutting tools which could, among other things, machine jet engine components ten times faster than tools made of competing materials. We have also had a very successful partnership with American Superconductor for developing the process for manufacturing superconducting cable. We started working with them in 1989, and our relationship is winding up this year. Our partnership with Caliper Life Sciences to develop the "lab on a chip" technology that is used in a number of medical diagnostic tools began in 1995 and continues to this day.
Based on your years of R&D experience in the private sector, what attracts industrial partners to ORNL?
The two main reasons private sector organizations collaborate with the lab are its unique scientific capabilities and facilities and the opportunity to take advantage of government-sponsored programs that match their research and development needs. When we show businesses our user facilities and research programs, they see the huge potential for collaborating with us for the benefit of their companies.
What role do the laboratory's user facilities play in these relationships?
Three of our user facilities most engaged with private industry are the High Temperature Materials Laboratory, the Building Technologies Research and Integration Center, and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. These facilities illustrate the role user facilities play in getting the results of federally funded R&D into the hands of industry. HTML collaborates with all of the major automotive companies and a large fraction of the companies that develop materials for use in hightemperature, high-stress environments. BTRIC works with many of the top building materials companies to create new products and to improve their existing product lines. Earlier this year, OLCF and SmartTruck Systems used the laboratory's Jaguar supercomputer to develop aerodynamic design changes for tractor-trailer rigs that resulted in fuel savings of 7 to 12 percent.
Because many businesses no longer maintain corporate research centers, the national laboratories are fast becoming the last bastions of fundamental research for these companies and are critically important for them.
How do you expect the laboratory's partnerships portfolio to evolve over the next several years?
The laboratory's research agenda is set by the Department of Energy, so as the goals and mission of DOE change, so will our mission. That means our research portfolio will evolve as well. From my perspective, it's clear that eliminating the country's dependence on foreign oil and reducing our greenhouse emissions are multidecade goals at least. I'm sure those focus areas will remain with us for a very long time and that ORNL will play a key role in meeting these challenges.