Two UArizona faculty elected to the National Academy of Inventors

Wolfgang Fink

This year's University of Arizona inductees into the National Academy of Inventors includes Wolfgang Fink, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering.

Molly Condit, Great Bear Media

The National Academy of Inventors has elected two University of Arizona faculty members to its 2023 class of fellows.

Douglas Loy, professor or materials science and engineering, and Wolfgang Fink, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, each received the designation this week. As fellows, they have created inventions that have made an impact on the quality of life and welfare of society as defined by the academy's standards. NAI fellow status is the highest professional distinction awarded by the organization, and only academic inventors are eligible for the honor.

"The nomination of our faculty members to this illustrious association of inventors speaks to the continued excellence at the University of Arizona when it comes to supporting innovation and bold thinking," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "Dr. Fink and Dr. Loy are each impressive representatives of the university within their fields and I am proud to see them recognized."

Including Loy and Fink, UArizona has over 35 NAI honorees on its faculty — 17 fellows and 19 senior members. The latter designation, requiring a similarly rigorous nomination process, is reserved for inventors who are earlier in their careers.

"This is the highest honor bestowed upon academic inventors and we are incredibly proud of Dr. Loy and Dr. Fink," said Elliott Cheu, interim senior vice president for research and innovation. "They have not only advanced knowledge within the academic community, but have also made a significant impact on real lives and communities. Their work exemplifies the transformative power of research and underscores UArizona's commitment to making a meaningful difference in the world."

Douglas Loy

Douglas Loy

Douglas Loy: Progress with polymers

Prior to coming to UArizona, Loy was a member of the research team at Sandia National Labs and Los Alamos National Lab. His research has contributed to polymer synthesis and sol-gel science — areas focused on producing solid materials from small molecules. He has published 126 peer-reviewed papers, is on the editorial board for the journal Molecules, and is a member of the American Chemical Society, the Materials Research Society the Association for the Advancement of Science, and Sigma Xi.

Aside from his academic accomplishments, Loy has demonstrated a dedication to seeing his work create impact for public good. He holds 25 U.S. patents and has an additional 10 currently in process. He is a co-founder of Energy Materials Corp., which focuses on new fuel cell membranes that operate at high maximum temperatures and higher ion conductivity to allow them to operate with technical-grade hydrogen. Honeywell licensed his patents for methods for making removable epoxies, polyurethanes and thermosets, the latter of which are plastics formed when multiple components chemically react under ambient conditions to form hard, rigid materials. His other patents cover multiple applications, from breaking down surfactants and adhesives to long-lasting polymer-based sunscreens. The sunscreen technology Loy invented was licensed to Mexico-based Novamex, and he continues to innovate to advance polymeric sunscreens and antioxidants.

"My thanks to Tech Launch Arizona for nominating me," Loy said. "This is a great honor and recognition of the incredible creative research groups I have had the privilege to lead."

Along with being a prolific researcher and inventor, Loy is dedicated to developing the next generation of scientist innovators. He mentors 50 undergraduates, 22 graduate students and 18 postdoctoral associates.

Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the university that commercializes inventions stemming from research, awarded Loy the honor of Inventor of the Year for the Physical Sciences in 2017.

Wolfgang Fink: Engineering a new era of opthalmology

Originally coming to UArizona from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech, Fink is the inaugural Edward and Maria Keonjian Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering, with joint appointments in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Systems and Industrial Engineering, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and Ophthalmology and Vision Science.

"I am truly excited to be awarded the highest professional distinction for academic inventors," Fink said. "This honor not only recognizes my research innovations but, even more so, reminds us of the critical importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in a university setting, which is often underappreciated."

Throughout his career, Fink has engaged in multidisciplinary collaborations, developing productive and innovative projects with experts in medical technology and healthcare, aerospace, planetary science and systems design. He  has focused the majority of his work on biomedical engineering for healthcare, specifically on ophthalmology and vision care; human/brain-machine interfaces such as artificial vision implants; smart platforms for mobile- and tele-health; and autonomous systems, such as those used for robotic space exploration.

Fink has invented, prototyped, and is commercializing numerous technologies that are on their way to becoming beneficial to patients and society at large. Examples of his patented inventions include novel technologies and enhancements for prostheses to advance the visual experience for the blind; implantable devices to monitor pressure in the eye and assist with glaucoma therapy; and a smartphone-based pupillometer to assess brain injuries and sleep apnea.

He has over 265 publications, six NASA patent awards and five Techbrief Awards, along with 23 U.S. and six foreign patents issued to date, along with 10 more patents pending in the areas of biomedical devices, neural stimulation, micro-electro-mechanical (MEMS) fabrication, data fusion and analysis, autonomous systems and multi-dimensional optimization.

"Doug Loy and Wolfgang Fink are each so deserving of the fellow designation," said TLA Associate Vice President Doug Hockstad. "Not only do they lead their fields from an academic standpoint, they each continue to work to see that their innovative ideas have an impact on individuals and society in general. Beyond academic expertise, that takes vision and persistence. Doug and Wolfgang are exemplar UArizona researchers and inventors, and TLA is fortunate to work with them."

The 2023 fellows class hails from 118 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions worldwide. Collectively, the 2023 fellows hold over 4,600 issued U.S. patents. This year's class includes two Nobel Laureates, three National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, 22 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and individuals holding other honors and distinctions as well as senior leadership from universities and research institutions. Their work spans disciplines and exemplifies their dedication to translating research into impactful commercial technologies that benefit society.

Since its inception in 2012, the NAI Fellows Program has grown to include 1,898 exceptional researchers and innovators, who hold over 63,000 U.S. patents and represent 13,000 licensed technologies. NAI fellows are known for the societal and economic impact of their inventions. Their innovations have generated over $3 trillion in revenue and generated 1 million jobs.  

The 2023 class of fellows will be honored and presented their medals by a senior official of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at the NAI 13th Annual Meeting on June 18, 2024, in Raleigh, North Carolina.