UT Patents Help Prevent Everything from Nuclear Disaster to Onion Milkshakes

A look at one of the screens on a mobile radiation detector patented by UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Global Nuclear Security Howard Hall, Nuclear Engineering Professor Steven Skutnik, and nuclear engineering student Michael Willis.

A look at one of the screens on a mobile radiation detector patented by UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Global Nuclear Security Howard Hall, Nuclear Engineering Professor Steven Skutnik, and nuclear engineering student Michael Willis.

Ice cream.

Just thinking about the different flavors can make a person salivate: Chocolate. Vanilla. Onion.

Onion? While onion-flavored ice cream might sound horrifying, it hasn’t been uncommon for dairy products to take on an onion or garlic flavor due to the natural diet of cattle.

Solutions to that problem and many others have been developed and patented by UT researchers.

A look at some of the more notable contributions of UT researchers:

  • Onion milk: Margaret MacDonald developed a process for removing unwanted flavors from milk in 1927 while working at what was then known as the UT Agricultural Experiment Station, now AgResearch. Her technique involved the use of mineral oil, which bonded to the substances causing the flavors and could then be strained through cloth, leaving “clean” milk.
  • Better berries: UT’s Brooks Drain, also of the Agricultural Experiment Station, made a tasty breakthrough of his own with his 1942 patent of a new strain of strawberry plant. His “Tennessee Supreme” plant was designed specifically for the soils of the state, with both taste and suitability in mind.
  • Charged up: Rechargeable batteries are commonplace today, but when UT’s Gleb Mamantov patented his “Sodium-tetravalent sulfur molten chloroaluminate cell” in 1985 it might as well have been science fiction. Head of the Department of Chemistry from 1979 to 1995, Mamantov developed substances that increased the charge and reliability of such batteries, a key breakthrough on the road to the rechargeable devices we have today.
  • Breathe easy: One of the long-known problems with using coal was the sulfur dioxide produced when it was burned. A 1991 patent filed by UT’s Wayne Davis, now the dean of the College of Engineering, Professor Greg Reed, and the University of Cincinnati’s Timothy Keener used ammonia to help neutralize such gases, reducing the environmental impact of coal burning.
  • Embryo transfer: One of the major issues in agriculture is the loss of embryos, particularly early in pregnancy. UT’s Neal Schrick, now head of the Department of Animal Science, led a team that observed different biochemicals at play and studied how to lessen the embryonic loss rate through administration of a readily available substance known as Banamine. Their 2010 patent has applications for all mammals.
  • Radiation detection: One of the more recent patents—from October 2015—has far-reaching implications for global security. UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Global Nuclear Security Howard Hall, Nuclear Engineering Professor Steven Skutnik, and nuclear engineering student Michael Willis developed a device that can successfully detect sources of nuclear radiation.