WORCESTER, Mass. – June 25, 2009 – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has announced that James Van de Ven, WPI assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Allan Katz '07 (BS), '09 (MS); have won the 2009 Kalenian Award. As part of the award, the two winners will receive $20,000 to help develop their invention – a high-speed hydraulic valve for use in switch-mode control in hydraulic hybrid vehicles. The Kalenian Award is given on a competitive basis and supports innovative ideas or the development of commercial products.
The Kalenian Award was established in 2006 by Alba Kalenian in memory of her late husband, inventor Aram Kalenian ‘33. Its purpose is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among WPI students, faculty, and alumni by providing seed money to advance their ideas. Alba Kalenian says her husband believed "the highest and best use of a WPI education is to invent, and patent, then create an invention-based business and employ."
The award-winning invention is a valve for switch-mode control, which is a new method for controlling hydraulic systems that uses a hydraulic valve to rapidly switch between efficient on-and-off states. The researchers' ultimate goal is to develop the high-speed valve invention into a licensed product at a major hydraulics manufacturer. To that end, the award will support the team's technical and entrepreneurial plans, which include further testing of the prototype, designing and building a second-generation prototype, creating performance specifications, obtaining a full patent, developing a marketing plan, and licensing the technology for further development and production.
"Because of the natural benefits of hydraulic systems over other energy domains, such as low-cost and high-power density, hydraulics are a natural choice for emerging alternative energy technologies," Van de Ven said. "This technology enables hydraulic hybrid vehicles with a performance and cost advantage over electrical hybrid systems. Switch-mode hydraulics is also applicable to alternative energy technologies such as wind turbines by offering improved efficiency in a smaller, lighter, and more economical package."
In addition to being a member of WPI's faculty since 2007, Van de Ven operates the Mechanical Energy and Power Systems (MEPS) Laboratory at the university. Dr. Van de Ven received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 2006. Prior to joining WPI, he was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Minnesota in the National Science Foundation-sponsored Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power. Van de Ven's research interests are in hybrid vehicles, efficient energy conversion, energy storage, fluid power, kinematics, and machine design.
Katz completed his M.S. degree in mechanical engineering this year at WPI. His thesis research focused on the design and development of a high-speed hydraulic valve for use in switch-mode circuits. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from WPI in 2007.
The Kalenian Award funds a single viable invention each year. Proposals are reviewed by a committee consisting of Paul Kalenian, son of Aram and Alba, and president of X Café – Coffee Extracts LLC; Jerry Schaufeld, professor of entrepreneurial practice at WPI; and Professor McRae C. Banks, head of WPI's Department of Management and director of the university's Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The winner is selected based on the novelty of the invention and its commercial potential, the viability of its business plan, and the likelihood of its success. Ideally, the recipient should be either associated with an existing small business, or in the process of trying to establish one. The award's goal is to accelerate the winning invention toward commercialization.
"We selected the Van de Ven and Katz project, because it had the greatest near-term commercial potential, not to mention Professor Van de Ven's experience in the field," Banks said. "During his lifetime, Aram Kalenian recognized how vitally important it was to move ideas from the lab or the garage to the marketplace, but he also recognized how difficult that was to accomplish. Fortunately, his passion for invention and commercialization has extended to his son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Cathy Kalenian."
Noted Paul Kalenian: "The Kalenian Award program is always one my annual high points. I look forward to a lifetime of these events. This opportunity brings thoughts of my family, WPI, innovation, and how inventive people can so easily get together to do remarkable things for one another and the world we live in. WPI has integrated itself into the American fabric in such a positive way."
Receiving an honorable mention this year were Robert Breznak '09, Alexander Camilo '09, Kevin Harrington '09, and Mark Mordarski ‘11 of Neuron Robotics, for a system of interconnecting modules, software, and parts that work together to allow researchers, hobbyists, and developers to increase their productivity while reducing their costs and waste. The inventors' goal is to become the commercial leader in robotic module development and to sell the company's products through an online store and by creating distribution channels through similar vendors. As first honorable mention, they won $5,000 cash and $5,000 for in-kind legal services from Boston-based law firm Wolf, Greenfield & Sachs P.C.