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June 1998

Nine UCAR/NCAR inventors feted at annual luncheon


Plaques in hand, eight of the nine inventors honored on 4 May gather at the Broker Inn. Left to right are Kent Goodrich, Fred Solheim, Dave Albo, Chris Rocken, Stick Ware, Sig Stenlund, Dean Lauritsen, and Paul Swarztrauber. Not pictured: Chris Alber. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

At its second annual Inventor Recognition Luncheon at the Broker Inn on 4 May, UCAR honored nine of its own whose innovations successfully made it through the U.S. Patent Office last year. The scientists and engineers behind these four new patents were joined at the luncheon by their supervisors, key UCAR/NCAR/UOP managers, and staff of the Intellectual Property Management Program, which sponsors the event.

"You are part of a rare and elite group of people," Halina Dziewit, IPMP director, told the inventors. NCAR director Bob Serafin observed that "a patent is worth at least several papers--at least that's the way we think of it in the National Academy of Engineering." And UCAR president Rick Anthes noted the potential of patents to help "free NCAR from its dependence on the federal dole," although he added, "We haven't hit that home run yet."

Each inventor received a walnut-and-brass plaque engraved with information taken from the first page of his patent. Below are summaries of the four patents, along with comments from the luncheon. (Nicknames are used below; formal names are used on the patents themselves.)

Facility for Preparing and Deploying Sounding Devices
Inventors: Dean Lauritsen, Sig Stenlund
Patent number: 5,636,480
Date issued: 10 June

The scoop: In the early 1990s, Sig (who retired from NCAR in 1994) was working with Dean to create a next-generation sounding system for the National Weather Service. One of their tasks was to create an automated balloon launcher that would help free NWS staff from the time-consuming, twice-daily job of deploying radiosondes. "We had a pretty free hand with this," said Dean. The two built the first prototype in Dean's garage and tested it at Boulder Municipal Airport. The resulting design features a retractable cover and a deflector that keeps downdrafts from impeding a launch in strong winds. Six prototypes have been placed by the NWS across the country, including one used daily in Guam.

Microburst Detection System
Inventors: Dave Albo, Kent Goodrich
Patent number: 5,648,782
Date issued: 15 July

The scoop: Starting in July, this system will be used operationally by flight controllers at Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok airport. "There are other microburst detection algorithms," Dave observed, but this one is noteworthy for several reasons.

Atmospheric Water Vapor Sensing System Using Global Positioning Satellites (GPS)
Inventors: Fred Solheim, Stick Ware, Chris Alber, Chris Rocken
Patent number: 5,675,081
Date issued: 7 October

The scoop: "This actually goes back to 1990," Stick commented. At that time, UCAR was considering bringing UNAVCO into its family of programs. A deciding point was the potential for using GPS signal delays to deduce atmospheric variables. One approach--tested successfully since 1995--is to deploy a receiver in space that intercepts GPS signals that have occulted the atmosphere (passed into and out of it along a path tangent to the earth's surface). This patent applies to a different technique: intercepting GPS signals on the ground, and then measuring the refractivity and integrated water vapor along the GPS ray path. The technique has performed well in tests across the southern plains, according to Chris Rocken, who added: "Somebody has to put it to use, now."

Multipipeline Multiprocessor System
Inventor: PauL Swarztrauber
Patent number: 5,689,722
Date issued: 18 November

The scoop: In the late 1980s, Dick Sato accompanied Paul on a trip to Thinking Machines Corporation (then in Cambridge, Massachusetts) to access their Connection Machine II. The massively parallel computer, sporting over 1,000 processors, promised 32 gigaflops, "but we'd get on it and get only one or two gigs," said Paul. Although the processors were speedy, it took time to break up each problem and then put together the processors' output. "We came back and tried to design the absolute optimum way to do this." Paul's design includes subtasks that help expedite the funneling of tasks to and from processors. According to Paul, "The good news is that UCAR now has a patent on the future of computing. The bad news is that I'm the only one who believes that." •BH


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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