Calderbank, Chilkoti Named Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors

Two faculty members from Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI): Robert Calderbank, the Charles S. Sydnor Professor of Computer Science, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the Information Initiative at Duke, and Ashutosh Chilkoti, professor and chair of the biomedical engineering department.

Founded in 2010, the NAI recognizes academic inventors for their prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society. This year’s list brings the total number of NAI Fellows to 414, representing more than 150 prestigious research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutions.

Included among all of the NAI Fellows are 61 presidents and senior leadership of research universities and non-profit research institutes, 208 members of the other National Academies (NAS, NAE, IOM), 21 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 16 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, 10 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Science, 21 Nobel Laureates, 11 Lemelson-MIT prize recipients, 107 AAAS Fellows, and 62 IEEE Fellows, among other awards and distinctions.

Calderbank’s inventions lie mainly in the field of information theory, in which he helped develop many communications technologies as vice president for research at AT&T until 2004. One example is the use of space-time block coding for wireless communication. Every time a cell phone talks to a base station with more than one antenna, Calderbank’s invention is at work—and there are about 10 billion cell phones in the world.

Two antennas at a base station provide two independent paths to a cell phone. By spreading information across the two paths and using space-time signal processing at the receiver, there is effectively a single channel that is better than either path. Two paths are better than one, more spatial diversity provides even better performance and space-time codes are incorporated in a broad range of wireless standards.

In 1999, Chilkoti invented the first elastin-like polypeptide fusion, which provided a new method to purify proteins without chromatography and opened a new path to developing drugs with greater potency and fewer side effects. The innovation launched a new avenue for drug delivery that is currently in development by research groups worldwide, and launched the startup company PhaseBio pharmaceuticals, where the technology is in late-stage clinical trials for drugs to treat endocrine and metabolic disorders and heart disease.

Chilkoti and coworkers also developed a “nonfouling” polymer brush technology that has been applied to novel immunoassays by a startup company Sentilus, Inc., that he co-founded in 2012, and which was recently acquired by industry giant Immucor. The technology provides a way to create a nonstick coating that acts as a sort of Teflon for molecules and cells found in blood and was developed into a microarray that can screen for many blood proteins at once with very high sensitivity.

The NAI Fellows will be inducted by the Deputy U.S. Commissioner for Patent Operations, from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), during the 4th Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors, on 20 March 2015, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.