The University of Texas at Austin honored two researchers whose collaboration led to a company that aims to change how electronics are made.
Professors C. Grant Willson and S.V. Sreenivasan received the Inventor of the Year award Thursday for developing a nanolithography process used for manufacturing computer chips, hard drives and other electronic components.
They took their research beyond the laboratory in co-founding Molecular Imprints Inc., an Austin-based company with more than 100 employees.
“I congratulate Professor Sreenivasan and Professor Willson for their momentous contributions to society, the full scope of which we won’t know for many decades to come,” said Bill Powers, president of the university. “I also honor the efforts of all the university’s many inventors. It is never more evident than on occasions like this that what starts here changes the world.”
Willson and Sreenivasan received the award at a reception where UT Austin researchers who received patents during the year were also recognized. The university’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) in the Office of the Vice President for Research organized the event.
Dan Sharp, interim OTC director, said the Inventor of the Year is chosen on the basis of the significance and novelty of a scientific discovery coupled with the commercial potential of the discovery.
“This program recognizes and honors them and the researchers and inventors at UT Austin and the great work that they perform in our labs,” he said.
The university received $20.3 million in licensing revenue in 2011-2012, and its researchers received 80 patents, making it one of the largest contributors of technology and innovation in the state.
The technology that Willson, a chemist and engineer, and Sreenivasan, a mechanical engineer, developed is a more cost-effective high-resolution printing technique used to make very high-resolution patterns used in the semiconductor and other industries.
The process could help manufacturers overcome some of the physical barriers involved in reducing the size of circuits in computer chips and other devices.
Besides their extensive research portfolios, Sreenivasan and Willson teach undergraduate and graduate classes.
Willson is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering.
In 2007 Willson, the Rashid Engineering Regents Chair, received the National Medal for Technology and Innovation from President George W. Bush. He received the SWS Teaching Excellence Award in Chemical Engineering in 2006.
He came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1993 after a 17-year career at IBM Corp., where he was an IBM Fellow. At IBM, Willson managed a large group of researchers who were developing new polymers for microelectronics, and his interest in that continued at the university.
His research focuses on the design and synthesis of functional organic materials, with emphasis on materials for microelectronics. His research group includes graduate and undergraduate students from natural science and engineering.
Sreenivasan is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Cockrell School and the Eli H. and Ramona Thornton Centennial Fellow in Engineering. In 2010 he received the O’Donnell Award for Technology Innovation conferred by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas.
Sreenivasan is also the chief technical officer and a member of the board of directors of Molecular Imprints and continues to provide strategic technical and business leadership.
During the past decade, Sreenivasan has mentored graduate research students who have been hired by Molecular Imprints.