Inventors group puts UO chemist in first class of senior members

University of Oregon chemistry professor Darren Johnson is no stranger to turning ideas in the lab into problem-solving tools and moving them into the market.

Johnson’s efforts in his own lab and helping others realize innovative breakthroughs have landed him in the first class of senior members in the National Academy of Inventors. Johnson is among 66 inventors at 37 research universities, government agencies and nonprofit research institutes named by the academy.

“I am extremely honored to be part of the inaugural class of senior members in the National Academy of Inventors,” said Johnson, who is the Bradshaw and Holzapfel Research Professor in Transformational Science and Mathematics. “There are many ways for faculty to enhance the impact of their fundamental research. My lab has looked to patenting, technology transfer and commercialization as a direct route to try to enhance the impact of our fundamental science.”

Johnson’s fingerprints can be found on materials used to develop a water-purification system, which was done in partnership with Portland-based startup Crystal Clear Technologies. He also collaborated with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to develop porous materials that remove hazardous liquids or gases from the environment.

More recently, Johnson’s efforts led to the licensing of patents in a portfolio related to sensors created to improve nitrate management in precision-agriculture. The UO startup SupraSensor Technologies emerged from basic research in both his lab and the lab of chemistry colleague Mike Haley. SupraSensor was acquired by The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Bayer, in 2016.

Johnson is active in extending the Lens of the Market professional development program for students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty members through the UO’s Materials Science Institute and the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

It is now co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, which formed the UO’s chapter of the National Academy of Inventors in 2017 to promote more entrepreneurship and innovation within the university. Much of these efforts are done with assistance of the UO’s Innovation Partnership Services.

Last fall, the UO’s Don Tucker, a professor in the Department of Psychology, became the first UO faculty member to be named a fellow of the academy, which was founded in 2009. Tucker invented the geodesic sensor net, a device that vastly simplified and improved the way researchers see and measure brain activity.

Senior members of the academy are active faculty members, scientists and administrators at the more than 250-member institutions that have a track record of success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

“The academy is the premier organization for honoring academic innovation and entrepreneurship,” said David Conover, vice president for research and innovation at the UO. “It is fantastic to see the organization recognize and honor faculty and academic researchers like professor Johnson who chose technology transfer and commercialization as a route to enhance the impact of research.”

—By Jim Barlow, University Communications