Did You Know UConn Invented That?

Research from universities drives innovation throughout the economy, and UConn has been no slouch when it comes to inventions.

A graphic that touts UConn's inventions.

UConn researchers are responsible for a huge variety of inventions that touch all corners of life.

Research that originates in universities is responsible for some of the most important innovations of our time. Fluoride toothpaste? The FDA-approved version we use today was developed at Indiana University. Seat belts? Faculty at Cornell University conducted intensive crash injury research to come up with those. And we can thank some scholars from the Harvard Business School for inventing the ubiquitous spreadsheet.

Between 1996 and 2015, university inventions contributed up to $591 billion to the US gross domestic product and supported 4.3 million jobs. In 2017 alone, 755 new products were created based on discoveries made in academic institutions.

Faculty inventors at the University of Connecticut have contributed to these totals with innovative technologies on the market today. While the University is well known for lots of things – top students and faculty, delicious ice cream, and skills on the basketball court to name a few – many Connecticut residents probably aren’t aware of all the interesting inventions developed at UConn and UConn Health.

“UConn has a lot to celebrate when it comes to innovative faculty and students,” says Radenka Maric, vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. “I’m always amazed at the creativity happening within the UConn community, which adds to the University’s long history of innovation.”

Each year, approximately 80 faculty inventions are disclosed to the University and 30 patents are awarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office. To date, over 650 patents have been issued based on UConn technologies. In honor of National Inventors’ Day, let’s take a look back at a few products and technologies on the market that have roots at UConn.

Pleasing Plant Hybrids

Agriculture has been a central part of UConn’s identity since it was founded as the Storrs Agricultural School in 1881. Many of the University’s best known inventions stem from hybrid plant cultivars like the flowering sandcherry and hardy rhododendrons developed by professor Gustav “Gus” Mehlquist (1906-1999) beginning in 1958. Throughout his 70-year career, Mehlquist sought the best plant crosses, and inspired future horticulturists to do the same.

In fact, Mark Brand, professor of horticulture in UConn’s Department of Plant Science, worked as a summer helper in Mehlquist’s lab when he was a student at E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield. Now an internationally renowned inventor in his own right, Brand has created sterile versions of invasive plants like the Japanese barberry. He also kept Mehlquist’s legacy alive by commercializing several of his most promising crosses in the early 1990s. He even chose to pay homage to UConn’s athletic dominance by naming the plants “Slam Dunk,” “Huskymania,” “March Madness,” and “Hoopla.” Many of the hybrids Brand and Mehlquist created are distributed through Monrovia nurseries, Prides Corner Farms, and Spring Meadow Nursery. They can be purchased at garden centers around the country.

Medical Breakthroughs

In modern dentistry, using metals for certain dental procedures is a thing of the past. That’s thanks in part to two researchers from the School of Dental Medicine at UConn Health. Materials scientist Jon Goldberg and orthodontist Charles Burstone collaborated in the late 1980s to create the fiber-reinforced material now used by dentists around the world in a number of dental devices. FibreKor® dental devices have the strength of metal with aesthetics that look more like natural tooth enamel. The materials are easier for dentists to use, and manufacturing them requires less processing. With help from technology commercialization experts at UConn, Burstone and Goldberg found an ideal licensing partner in Pentron, a global manufacturer of dental materials that happened to be based in Wallingford, Connecticut. Pentron was the first to exclusively license the invention in 1996 and brought it to the dental market in 1997.

The common blood disorder hemophilia A is caused by a genetic deficiency in factor VIII, a naturally occurring blood-clotting protein. ADVATE (antihemophilia factor [recombinant]), a widely prescribed medication that can prevent and control bleeding episodes in people with hemophilia A, is based on formulations developed by Michael Pikal, who was a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UConn. Pikal collaborated with partners from the pharmaceutical industry to bring this discovery to the public. ADVATE has been used to treat hemophilia A for over 15 years.

Educational Innovations

Professors Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis from the Neag School of Education developed an interactive online system that provides a personalized learning environment for students. The tool helps to increase engagement and support higher academic performance. The Renzulli Learning System is the culmination of years of research centered on how personalized instruction can inspire learning and improve educational outcomes. The invention was acquired in 2010 by Compass Learning, Inc., the leading provider of personalized educational technology solutions. It has benefited over 2,000,000 students to date.

Feats of Engineering

UConn professor emeritus of electrical engineering Matthew Mashikian formed IMCORP in 1995 to help utility companies enhance the reliability of underground power cables and the electric energy they deliver. Based on technology Mashikian developed at UConn’s Institute of Materials Science, the patented invention accurately pinpoints the location of weak spots in underground cable. This information helps utility companies target repair efforts, reduce costs, and ensure the reliable delivery of power to customers. It also provides diagnostic information that predicts future cable performance, which improves the long-term reliability of the cable. Since its founding, IMCORP has evaluated more than 185 million feet of cable systems on four continents. The company is based in Manchester, Connecticut and employs over 140 people, many of whom are UConn graduates.

A Bright Future of Innovation

Research at UConn continues to fuel innovative technologies that could someday cure disease, support industry, and benefit society. UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research will host celebrations in Storrs and UConn Health in Farmington next week to recognize faculty inventors who have recently been issued patents for their inventions. To learn more about innovations available for licensing and startups based on UConn technologies, visit the UConn Innovation Portal.

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