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Four scientists receive Battelle Distinguished Inventor recognition

  • Since UT-Battelle began managing ORNL in 2000, 97 ORNL researchers have reached this milestone.
  • The inventors are Justin Baba, Brian Davison, James Kiggans and Vlastimil Kunc.
  • Baba is the first scientist of African origin to be named a Battelle Distinguished Inventor from ORNL.
2023 Battelle Distinguished Inventors

Four scientists affiliated with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory were named Battelle Distinguished Inventors during the lab’s annual Innovation Awards on Dec. 1 in recognition of being granted 14 or more United States patents.

The honorees join an elite group of inventors recognized by Battelle, the Columbus, Ohio, research firm that co-manages the lab through the UT-Battelle partnership. Since UT-Battelle began managing ORNL in 2000, 97 ORNL researchers have reached this milestone.

“For scientific advancements to improve society, they must be shared with the broader scientific community or moved into the market,” said ORNL Director Stephen Streiffer. “ORNL's emphasis on doing that is a critical part of the lab’s identity, and it draws partners to work with us. Patenting is a key step to translating lab research to real-world applications.”

The 2023 Battelle Distinguished Inventors include:

Justin Baba, associate research professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University, associate director of the Vanderbilt Biophotonics Center and an Engineering Unleashed Fellow. Baba’s research and patent portfolio focus on the development and translation of non- and minimally invasive biomedical sensing, diagnostic, monitoring and therapeutic technologies. He is the founder and chief scientific officer for Yaya Scientific, a Nashville-based engineering start-up that develops diagnostic, therapeutic and integrated hardware solutions for biomedical problems. Several of his inventions are licensed to industry and have been tested in clinical trials. He worked at ORNL from 2003 to 2018, developing and advancing biomedical applications for DOE’s Office of Science technology portfolio. During his career at ORNL, he held joint faculty appointments at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Vanderbilt University. He has been recognized for as an Outstanding DOE Mentor and was named 2006 Most Promising Scientist for his early career achievements by Science Spectrum magazine. Baba has received several UT-Battelle Technology Commercialization and UT-Battelle Technology Partnerships Awards. Baba, who was born in Nigeria, is the first scientist from ORNL of African origin to be named a Battelle Distinguished Inventor.

Brian Davison, an ORNL Corporate Fellow and leading researcher in renewable biofuels and biomaterials. His patent portfolio includes bioprocessing and catalysis inventions, with the most recent patents focusing on catalytic upgrading of bioethanol into hydrocarbon fuel blendstocks. His patent portfolio has been licensed to a few companies, with the first license to Vertimass, a company developing the hydrocarbon blendstocks for gasoline and sustainable aviation fuel. Davison is the chief science officer for the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, one of four Bioenergy Research Centers within the DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research program. He joined ORNL in 1985 and advanced from staff biochemical engineer to group leader to division director to his current role as chief scientist for systems biology and biotechnology at ORNL. He co-founded ORNL’s LGBTQ+ group, now called PRISM, in 1995 and serves as spokesperson and co-chair to promote inclusion and equality. He is co-chair of the ORNL Educational Research Committee. His achievements in innovation include an R&D 100 Award and a UT-Battelle Technology Transfer Award.

James Kiggans, a former ORNL research scientist in metals and ceramics for 44 years who retired in 2020. Kiggans died in January 2022 at the age of 69. Kiggans’ education and experience spanned a variety of disciplines, and as such, his research focus and patent portfolio are varied. His materials processing work explored powder metallurgy, microwave processing, gel-casting, tape casting, hot pressing, slip-casting, and other processes used in prototype forming of ceramic and metal materials, such as titanium and titanium alloys. Other research topics he pursued include the application of coatings to various substrates, the fabrication of materials for battery applications, the development of piezoelectric materials for fuel injector applications, the infrared and plasma heat treatment of materials, the development of carbon-based materials for water purification, and the fabrication of ultracapacitor materials. His collaborative research projects included partnerships with Dow Chemical, Kennametal, Detroit Diesel, Allied Signal, Honeywell, 3M, Microwave Materials, Eaton, Microwave Synergy, A123 Systems and Campbell Applied Physics. He authored more than 50 publications and is named in three R&D 100 Awards.

Vlastimil Kunc, section head for composites science and technology in the Manufacturing Science Division and adjunct professor at Purdue University. The Composites Science and Technology section consists of four groups with physical and human resources capable of all composite manufacturing steps starting from fiber pre-cursor synthesis to parts manufacturing and recycling across multiple scales. During his career, Kunc has been responsible for multiple high-profile demonstrations leading to commercial product introduction and articles that were tested in four space launches. He has published more than 50 journal articles. Kunc has been named in five R&D 100 awards, four CAMX Awards for Composites Excellence and a JEC Innovation Award. He also mentors entrepreneurs in the Innovation Crossroads program. He joined ORNL in 2002.

An etched portrait of each new honoree will be added to a wall display at ORNL and at Battelle headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

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