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2012 Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees
May 8, 2012
Last week, the National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted 10 innovators in medical, industrial and commercial fields. Among them: the creator of the laser printer and a co-founder of Apple Inc. Akira Endo: Mevastatin Akira Endo pioneered research into a new class of molecules that now form a hugely successful category of cholesterol-lowering drugs. In the 1970s, Endo, then of the Sankyo Company, was investigating fungi's effects on cholesterol synthesis. He theorized that fungi would inhibit cholesterol synthesis (the body's production of "bad" cholesterol) and studied 6,392 fungi over two and a half years before discovering compactin. From this, he was able to identify statins, drugs that have revolutionized the way that doctors treat congenital heart disease. During his acceptance speech, Endo reported that he was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol, but his doctor told him, "We have very good drugs to treat that," as Forbes reports. Barbara Liskov: Programming Languages and System Design Barbara Liskov is a pioneer in the design of computer programming languages. After being turned down for graduate studies at Princeton in the early 1960s because she was a woman, Liskov began working for the Mitre Corporation as a computer programmer, when the discipline was still young. At Mitre she researched computer systems and natural language translation, which led to her study of artificial intelligence (AI) at Stanford. Her work there, and her subsequent position at MIT, allowed her to perform groundbreaking research on programming languages, data abstraction and software engineering. C. Kumar N. Patel: Carbon Dioxide Laser In 1964, C. Kumar N. Patel, working at Bell Labs, helped invent the carbon dioxide laser -- one of the earliest gas lasers. Carbon dioxide lasers were able to exhibit much higher efficiency, while also emitting powerful, focused laser beams. Patel's work on the CO2 laser allowed various industries to access more powerful laser technology, leading to uses in industrial manufacturing and fabrication, engraving and surgery. Lubomyr Romankiw and David Thompson: Magnetic Thin-Film Head IBM researchers Lubomyr Romankiw and David Thompson are credited with inventing the first practical magnetic thin-film storage heads, creating new designs for both read and write heads along with a new fabrication process. Their three patents helped magnetic disk storage devices become smaller and more robust, as well as allowing manufacturers to produce them more cheaply. These inventions are credited with helping create an industry worth more than $35 billion in annual sales today. Gary Starkweather: Laser Printer Gary Starkweather's laser printer was the first to print any images that could be created on a computer. While working as a researcher for Xerox PARC, Starkweather was struck by the idea that he could use computers and lasers to create original images instead of just copies. Upper management didn't agree, so he spent the next several months covertly building a laser printer prototype. Eventually, Xerox saw the wisdom in Starkweather's idea and began marketing the Xerox 9700 laser printing system, which would become one of Xerox's best-selling products. Starkweather went on to develop display technology utilities for Apple Inc. Alejandro Zaffaroni: Controlled Drug Delivery Systems Uruguayan Alejandro Zaffaroni is a biotechnology innovator whose early concepts for transdermal patches led to new drug delivery systems. In the 1940s, Zaffaroni moved to the United States to study endocrinology, during which time he learned how the body releases hormones at a regular rate to affect behavior and performance. He then worked at Syntex Corporation in Mexico City, where he began research based on this knowledge to develop new systems of drug delivery. Zaffaroni eventually created his own company, ALZA Corp., to produce oral and transdermal controlled drug delivery systems, part of the $10 to $15 billion drug delivery pharmaceutical industry.