Celebration at the intellectual property finish line includes family and friends

By Troy Rummler

Photography By Lonnie Anderson

Thursday, January 17, 2019

close-up of engraved trophies
THE LOOT — Trophies commemorated the achievements of Sandia employees in four categories: Patent Inventors, Copy­right Authors, Mission Innovators, and Up & Coming Innovators.

“They give patent awards in a blue binder,” Mark Grubelich said. “And one year, I handed one to my wife and said, ‘Put it with the other ones.’ She said, ‘What other ones?’”

Loved ones are sometimes in the dark about work that goes on at Sandia. But for one night last month, they joined the Labs in celebrating partners, parents and friends at the ninth annual Innovation Celebration, organized by Integrated Partnerships Organizations.

The event, at the Albuquerque Museum, recognized individuals who added patents and commercial copyrights to Sandia’s intellectual property portfolio in 2017. IPO also handed out Mission Innovator awards for creative contributions toward the Labs’ national security mission and honored director-nominated Up & Coming Innovators for individuals who have shown potential to generate future intellectual property.

Since 2010, the blue patent binders have been accompanied by modest trophies given out at this public ceremony. And Mark brings his wife.

“That’s a big deal to the both of us, because we’re kind of a team, that she can participate in a Sandia event,” he said.

IPO oversees technology transfer and intellectual property management at Sandia and provides legal and strategic guidance for researchers wishing to form partnerships with organizations outside the Labs.

“This event gives us the opportunity to recognize the individual scientists and engineers whose innovative work makes Sandia a leading national laboratory in intellectual property generation,” said Mary Monson, senior manager for technology partnerships and business development. “We’re proud of the work carried out at Sandia, and we’re happy to share this annual celebration with family, friends and coworkers.”

Learning opportunity

Joshua Beutler from microsystems assessments brought his 9-year-old son. They talk a lot about what it means to be an inventor, he says, and the celebration was an opportunity to show his son first-hand.

Joshua was being recognized for a patented visible-light probe designed to diagnose problems in integrated circuits with better resolution than conventional infrared light. He demonstrated the technology at a Family Day his kids came to several years ago, which led to another conversation with his son — why the patent process takes so long.

The event produced revelations among coworkers, too. Ted Borek and Mark Grubelich have known each other since college. Over two decades of overlapping careers at Sandia, they’ve collaborated on some of the same projects, and today they’re good friends.

But when they bumped into each other at the Innovation Celebration, where they both received awards for different patents, they were surprised to see each other. “I didn’t know you were doing that,” Mark recalled thinking.

Flexing technological prowess

“The breadth of intellectual property generated at Sandia is one of the great assets of this lab,” said Deputy Labs Director Dave Douglass, who delivered opening remarks. “The spirit of innovation found here is what has enabled Sandia to reliably solve changing national security challenges for the past 70 years.”

The Innovation Celebration gave out 284 awards, honoring a tremendous range of technical achievements. Ted was granted a patent for a neutron-detecting material that uses boron instead of the conventional, but much rarer, helium-3 isotope. Mark was recognized for three patents: a device that prevents leaks from gas and oil wells into groundwater by centering underground pipes; an epoxy that temporarily seals a hole bored for a well and then safely burns away to open the hole again when needed; and a mobile water cannon designed to disable a vehicle non-lethally.

Mohamed Ebeida from computing research was honored with both an Up & Coming Innovator and a Copyright Author award. He invented algorithms and developed accompanying software that redefines the paradigm for meshing — or partitioning objects for computer simulation. Existing algorithms create meshes that analysts need to check and manually tweak. But Mohamed believes his new system could become a fully automated process.

“Right now, I have a very ambitious, exploratory LDRD where we propose to solve the meshing problem once and for all.”

Mohamed was glad to bring his wife, too. He said he wished she could have learned more about the award-winning work. It keeps the ceremony short, Mohamed acknowledged, but he also values the recognition that takes place at work, where recipients are acknowledged individually.