UT Plant Scientist, Textile Researcher Share Entrepreneurship Award

KNOXVILLE — Two University of Tennessee researchers whose inventions in the soybean and textile industries are being adopted worldwide have been named recipients of the 2006 Wheeley Award for their entrepreneurial achievements.

Vincent Pantalone, a plant scientist who breeds new soybean varieties, and Peter Tsai, a textiles engineer who has developed methods of improving nonwoven filters, will receive the award at a luncheon on Oct. 18.

“Both of these men are outstanding scientists who have been able to commercialize their research in ways that benefit their industries and the university,” said Fred Tompkins, president of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation and UT associate vice president for research. “They have developed products that are important to the regional and national economy and to society.

“The awards panel had a hard choice to make, so they decided to honor both men.”

The annual award, established by B. Otto and Kathleen Wheeley, recognizes and encourages technology transfer from the university to private industry. Given by the UT Research Foundation, it is considered one of the most prestigious institutionally awarded honors. Each recipient will receive $4,000. Jim Millar, a general partner at Battelle Ventures and Innovation Valley Partners, will speak at the award luncheon.

Pantalone is an associate professor in plant sciences in the Institute of Agriculture. His work with soybean cultivars — specially cultivated types of soybeans — has resulted in five varieties that are pesticide-resistant, two conventional varieties and five improved germplasm (DNA) lines. Since 2001, two of his cultivars have been adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “high-yield checks” or high-producing standard varieties, replacing older varieties that were the agricultural standard for almost two decades.

The new varieties yield an extra five bushels of soybeans a year, which offers the Tennessee agricultural industry the possibility of increasing its annual revenues, estimated at more than $230 million a year, by another $33 million. Pantalone has been at UT since 1998.

Tsai has developed techniques to improve electrostatic filters for furnace and air conditioning systems and to treat nonwoven fabrics to improve their resistance to alcohol and blood in medical settings. Tsai’s TANTRET technology has been licensed to 16 textile companies worldwide, many of them using the technology to develop more effective HEPA filters for hospitals and particle-free “clean” rooms.

A research associate professor in UT’s Textiles and Nonwoven Development Center (TANDEC) in Knoxville, Tsai holds 12 U.S. patents. He is also a founding principal in Atmospheric Glow Technologies, a Knoxville firm that markets and develops plasma-based applications. Kim Kelly-Wintenberg, also a former Wheely Award winner, heads AGT.

Wheeley, a UT graduate, was deputy chairman of the Koppers Co. and president of Kopvenco, its venture capital subsidiary. He founded Venture First Associates, Inc., and has worked with the university to promote commercial development of university research. Nine faculty have received the award since it was established in 1989.


Contacts:

Dr. Arlene Garrison (865-974-6410)
Bill Dockery (865-974-2187)
Patricia McDaniels (865-974-7375)