The Invention Of The Lightbulb
NC State engineer reaches major milestone with 100th patent joining Edison famous for the invention of the lightbulb

NC State engineer reaches major milestone with 100th patent joining Edison famous for the invention of the lightbulb

Dr. Jayant "Jay" Baliga, Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at North Carolina State University, has joined an elite corps of inventors: He has earned his 100th patent, a mark reached by only a handful of technological innovators.

Other scientists with 100 or more U.S. patents include Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture projector; Percy L. Spencer, who developed radar and the microwave oven; and James Fergason, inventor of the liquid crystal display.

Baliga’s 100th patent – titled "Methods of Forming Silicon Carbide Semiconductor Devices Having Buried Silicon Carbide Conduction Barrier Layers Therein" – was issued Sept. 7 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It gives Baliga and NC State legal recognition for inventing an electric switch that could significantly improve the energy efficiency of household appliances, electric trains and cars, air conditioning units and other large machines.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox will announce the milestone during an opening ceremony today (Friday, Oct. 1) at the new Entrepreneurial Development Center @ NC State, a small- business incubator facility on the university’s Centennial Campus. Among the center’s tenants is Giant Semiconductor Corp., a company recently launched by Baliga and NC State to commercialize his research. The ceremony will be at 3 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Venture Center II building, near the intersection of Research Drive and Main Campus Drive.

The NC State Memorial Belltower will be lit red in Baliga’s honor this evening.

Baliga has brought great credit to himself and NC State with his dedication to bridging the gap between university research and the commercial use of those inventions, says Fox. "His interest and achievements in pursuing the commercial application of his research will ensure that the university and the public at large will benefit for years to come," she says.

Baliga, who is director of the Power Semiconductor Research Center at NC State, says the number of patents he has earned is less important than the usefulness of each. "I continue to believe that my inventions become valuable when they are available as products for consumers, so society can benefit from the resulting improvements in living conditions and the reduction of fossil fuel consumption," he says.

He predicts that U.S. Patent No. 5,950,076, like many of the others he’s earned, will do exactly that. He laid the groundwork for this technological advancement 20 years ago, when he derived an equation that describes the fundamental relationship between the electrical properties of semiconductor materials and the performance of power devices. The equation, now commonly known as Baliga’s Figure of Merit, predicted that power devices made from silicon carbide materials would be a thousand times more efficient than commercially available silicon-based power devices.

Since then, researchers have constructed a variety of silicon carbide transistors – power switches used in large electrical machines – in the search for a structure that allows for that improvement. Baliga believes he has achieved it with the subject of his 100th patent.

His new transistor, which could be available for sale in two or three years, may dramatically improve the energy efficiency of machines such as household appliances and electric cars and trains. That’s because, in the new transistor, a thousand times less electrical energy is lost in the form of heat energy. "If we were wasting 1,000 watts with a currently used transistor, you would only be wasting a single watt with the new one," Baliga says. "That would mean a huge energy savings, and a reduction in the amount of fossil fuels, such as coal, that is needed to create the electrical energy."

Baliga is planning to commercialize the technology through Giga-Ohm, a fully owned subsidiary of Giant Semiconductor Corp., the firm he and NC State created in the spring with financial assistance from the Centennial Venture Partners capital fund.

Baliga says moving into this select company of inventors with 100 or more patents will enhance his professional profile – helping him attract corporate partners. "Partners find the opportunity to collaborate with a prolific inventor to be extremely attractive," he says. "They want to know if you’re a one-trick pony, or if this is a long-range relationship, one where they can expect more than that one invention."

Mark Crowell, associate vice chancellor for technology transfer and industry research at NC State, says Baliga has a "really remarkable" record of developing inventions with both scientific merit and significant commercial potential. "The fact that so many of his inventions result in issued patents underscores the fact that he is doing significant, cutting-edge research with vast practical and commercial utility," Crowell says.

NC State researchers have been issued a total of 312 patents, including 30 during the 1998-99 fiscal year. About 40 of Baliga’s patents are for semiconductor innovations he’s developed at NC State, where he has been a faculty member since 1988. The other 60 are for technologies he developed during his years at General Electric’s Corporate Research and Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y., where he was manager of power device development from 1979 to 1988.

Patent attorney Grant Scott says Baliga’s patent milestone is especially noteworthy because semiconductors are the most studied materials on earth, with many top researchers competing to develop new technologies. "This is a very demanding field, so this is a truly phenomenal accomplishment," says Scott, who represents NC State. He notes that Baliga has had at least one patent granted for every request filed with and fully considered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; no one else represented by the law firm of Myers Bigel Sibley & Sajovec, P.A., has such a high success rate. "That just goes to show just how significant these improvements are," Scott says.

Regarded as the world’s leading expert on power semiconductor devices, Baliga has written more than 500 scientific publications and 10 books, including the textbook on power semiconductors used at most universities in the United States, Europe, India and Japan. He has supervised 17 master’s and 22 doctoral students at NC State over the past 10 years, and teaches an undergraduate electrical engineering class each semester.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, he was the 1998 recipient of the O. Max Gardener Award, the highest faculty honor bestowed by the University of North Carolina system. In June, he was awarded the Lamme Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers "for his sustained, innovative contributions to power semiconductor technology."

Scientific American named him in 1997 as one of the eight heroes of the semiconductor revolution, along with physicists William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, who shared the 1956 Nobel Prize for inventing the electrical transistor, the foundation of modern electronics.

Author Notes:

Mark Harris contributes and publishes news editorial to  Find online lightbulbs like Halogen, Projector, Tanning Bed, Fluorescent, Automotive and much more.

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