Materials researchers honored for achievements as academic inventors

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Monday, May 2, 2022
Penn State professors Clive Randall, left, and T.C. Mike Chung Credit: Penn State

Penn State professors Clive Randall and T.C. Mike Chung have been named 2021 fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

The distinction honors academic inventors “who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society,” according to NAI.

“I deeply appreciate the recognition of NAI for this honor,” said Chung, professor emeritus of materials science and engineering. “This belongs to my research group members for more than three decades of hard work and for believing in and developing functional polyolefins for various applications, especially relating to the energy storage and green environmental areas.”

Chung and Randall join a cohort of 164 prolific academic innovators from around the world in the 2021 class, which will be inducted in June at the NAI annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Collectively, the group holds more than 4,800 U.S. patents.

“It was wonderful news to hear NAI recognized our efforts to combine innovation, science and engineering of functional oxide materials,” said Randall, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Materials Research Institute at Penn State.

At Penn State, Chung worked to develop polymer chemistry in the search for new materials with unique chemical and physical properties for physical applications. Chung recently retired after more than 30 years at the University, where he authored more than 230 papers and received 58 U.S. and international patents.

Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Chung and his team developed PetroGel, a super absorbent synthetic material that can absorb more than 40 times its weight in crude oil, effectively stopping oil from spreading after a spill. Because the material absorbs oil and not water, the oil collected can be refined and reused, further reducing environmental waste and pollution associated with other collection methods.   

Chung joined Penn State as an associate professor in 1989. He previously served on the senior research staff at Exxon. He received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Chung Yuan University and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania.

Randall is a world leader in ceramics and functional materials. Among his many contributions are the development of novel processing methods such as the fast-sintering processes for multilayer ceramic capacitor devices, a method that has been adopted by major manufacturers, as it permits superior microstructural and dielectric performance.

Via fast sintering, trillions of capacitors are manufactured every year, and these capacitors are in all electrical systems. More recently his group discovered and developed cold sintering, a revolutionary process that enables sintering of ceramics at a much lower temperature than traditional sintering. Cold sintering uses much less energy and enables development of new materials. 

“With such an approach, it was beneficial to have very close relations with leading international materials and electronic companies and their top scientists,” Randall said. “This network was enabled with an industrial consortium that is now known as the Center for Dielectrics and Piezoelectrics, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) that funded many graduate students at Penn State and elsewhere over the years. I believe that this prestigious honor from the NAI is a testimony to all these enabling partners.”

Randall joined Penn State in 1987 as a research associate in ferroelectrics. He received his bachelor of science degree in physics from the University of East Anglia and his doctoral degree in experimental physics from the University of Essex. He has authored and co-authored more than 500 technical papers and 20 patents.