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Engineering professor, recent grad celebrated for innovations

As Ohio State continues to expand its role in the commercialization of research, it is important to create an environment that facilitates and rewards research creativity and entrepreneurship. To support and stimulate entrepreneurial activity among Ohio State researchers, three university-wide awards were presented on January 25, 2017, to Ohio State’s most successful entrepreneurs. Two of the 2016 Innovator of the Year awards were earned by Buckeye engineers—Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Yuan Zheng and recent mechanical engineering graduate Jacob Mendlovic.

The university-wide innovator awards recognize research creativity and entrepreneurship among Ohio State researchers by honoring the university’s most successful faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs. Since the Innovator Awards were established in 2010, College of Engineering faculty and students have received 11 of the 20 awards given.

Innovator of the Year: Yuan Zheng

The 2016 Innovator of the Year is Yuan Zheng, professor of electrical and computer engineering. He has been a leader in robotics research for more than 35 years, creating innovative structures and mechanisms for robotics in industrial, defense and service applications.

In 2014, Zheng developed the Circular Wave Drive (CWD), a compact and co-axial gear head that allows for speed reduction in rotational motions. Speed reducers represent 36% of the total cost of an industrial robot. Yuan’s CWD was developed as a replacement for the traditional Harmonic Drive Gear (HDG) technology used widely in the robotics industry. The HDG technology uses a special metal alloy that has to be replaced every two years and requires expensive high precision machining.

Zheng’s CWD technology overcomes the shortcomings of the HDG. He developed a low-cost, compact, highly-efficient, ruggedized speed reducing gear system. He increased torque capacity and the life span of the gear by eliminating the use of flexible materials in the design. This invention could mean the formation of a new market of ultra-fast, high-precision steering and automation beyond robotic joints.

IKOVE, a local venture capital company, licensed his technology from the university in 2015 and founded a start-up company called CWD LLC. One U.S. patent and one international patent have been filed. Funding from the Ohio Third Frontier’s Technology Validation and Start-up Fund was used to design and fabricate a prototype CWD.

Student Innovator of the Year: Jacob Mendlovic

The 2016 Student Innovator of the Year is Jacob Mendlovic, a recent Ohio State honors graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in nuclear engineering. He is passionate about using innovative engineering solutions to solve real-world problems.

Mendlovic is the primary inventor of a patent-pending technology that does electrochemical imaging of below ground biomasses and fuel. He developed a microscale platinum wire probe that uses intrinsic electrochemical properties to create images of subsurface biomass structures.

The probe could provide farmers with information about soil conditions that would help them select crops resistant to drought and make adjustments to planting and irrigation techniques. National Park monitors could use the probe to analyze tree and biomass health, helping to mitigate wild fires. The Office of Energy and Environment sees potential for this technology to identify trace chemicals from fracking applications in water.

Spurred by the success of leading a student group to develop cost-cutting methods for small-scale coffee farmers in Honduras, Mendlovic founded “Students for a Sustainable Honduras.” This club brings together teams of undergraduate students to share ideas and expand the impact of student projects across the country. Following graduation, he aided in the creation of a framework for universal metrics in the energy-water-food-social nexus, allowing for a better understanding of the interactions of these resources with the ever-increasing population.

The Innovator of the Year awards were presented by Caroline Whitacre, vice president for research, during the annual State of Research Address. In addition to Zheng and Mendlovic, Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, research assistant professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation, was named Early Career Innovator of the Year.

Learn more about Ohio State Research and Innovation on the Office of Research website.