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Engineering Professor Thomas Milner Named UT Austin’s Inventor of the Year

Researcher’s findings help detect and diagnose threatening illnesses.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Thomas Milner, professor of engineering in the Biomedical Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Austin, was named Inventor of the Year at the university’s annual Inventor Award Ceremony on Nov. 19. Milner pioneered the development of optical-based instrumentation applications that help physicians and patients in clinical settings.

Milner received the award from Provost Gregory L. Fenves for his dedication to the invention, development and demonstration of light-based therapeutic and diagnostic procedures that treat or prevent disease in humans.

Milner’s inventions have helped physicians better detect and diagnose illnesses such as glaucoma and heart disease, and they have helped treat many dermatological conditions.

“I congratulate Professor Milner for his contributions and for the impact they will have on society. This truly exemplifies our institution’s motto, What Starts Here Changes the World,” said Juan Sanchez, the university’s vice president for research.

“I also applaud the efforts of all the university’s researchers and inventors,” said Sanchez.  “Their discoveries and wide-ranging intellectual contributions have positioned our university as a world-ranking research university.”

Milner has developed a technology known as optical coherence tomography, which uses a fiber-optic interferometer in combination with a broadband light source to detect subsurface static and moving constituents in tissue such as red blood cells.

He took his research beyond the laboratory in co-founding CardioSpectra Inc., a San Antonio-based company that was sold to the Volcano Corporation. The multimillion-dollar transaction has been named one of the greatest return-on-investments for Texas’ Emerging Technology Fund and has contributed significantly to San Antonio’s flourishing biotechnology sector. Milner’s inventions have been widely used during the past decade in clinical laser treatment systems offered globally by Candela Laser Corporation.

“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,” said Dan Sharp, associate vice president of research and director of the Office of Technology Commercialization at the university, which organized this week’s event to recognize the university’s researchers and inventors and the work they perform in their labs.

In addition to Fenves, Sanchez and Sharp, speakers at the event included Robert M. Metcalfe, the Professor of Innovation and Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise in the Cockrell School of Engineering. Metcalfe, a co-inventor of Ethernet, is a professor of electrical and computer engineering and is director of innovation for the Cockrell School.

Milner is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the Cockrell School and holds the Marion E. Forsman Centennial Professorship in Engineering.

Milner is also a fellow with the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. He received the 2002 Coherent Young Investigator Award in Biophotonics. He has received numerous research awards from private and national foundations such as Clayton, Whitaker and the National Institutes of Health. He serves as a paid member of the board of advisers for Insight Photonic Solutions.

He joined the faculty of UT Austin in 1998. Throughout his career, Milner has been named as a co-inventor on more than 35 issued U.S. patents, and he has co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed publications.