By Justin Wier
Tom Oder, professor of physics at Youngstown State University, has received his second patent — and the university’s third — in under a year.
Oder’s first patent at the university was issued on Aug. 26, 2014. He received his most recent patent on May 19 of this year.
The second patent was a product of the same research that produced the first.
“When we filed it back in 2009, we thought it was one patent, but when the examiner looked at it, it was decided that there were actually two parts, so there were two separate patents,” Oder said.
Gregg Sturrus, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at YSU, said Oder is breaking new ground at the university.
“He’s blazing the trail for the process of going from the idea to patent to getting it commercialized,” Sturrus said. “We haven’t really done that before in full detail.”
He said Oder isn’t the first to try patenting an idea; he’s just the first to see the process through.
“People have tried this before and given up. It’s not like [Oder] is the first person who had an idea that could’ve been patented, but the whole process at YSU really hasn’t been ironed out well, and it needs to be, and I think it’s going to be,” Sturrus said. “[Oder]’s kind of a pioneer in that sense.”
Sturrus said the administration is starting to see the value in these activities, going as far as appointing an associate vice president for research to help with the patent process.
“The upper administration realizes now that that whole idea to commercialization thing is really the way universities are going. That’s the way you gotta go to have people interested in donations,” Sturrus said. “It’s gotta be an innovative moving type of thing.”
Both of Oder’s patents are for a device called a Schottky barrier diode. The diodes are formed by creating a junction between a semiconductor and a metal.
The first patent Oder was issued concerned a diode made using silicon carbide and a metal alloy consisting of boron and other metals.
The new patent concerns a diode made by combining silicon carbide with an alloy called nickel gallide, formed by combining nickel and gallium.
Oder said the Schottky barrier diode formed using nickel gallide has a very high barrier height. Barrier height measures the performance of the device. If you intend to use the device in applications that involve high temperatures, high voltages or high frequencies, the higher the barrier height the better.
“The number is indicative of its stability when you are using it under those harsh conditions,” Oder said. “Nickel gallide gives us the highest barrier height that we’ve seen in the literature.”
Oder said standard Schottky barrier diodes can only withstand temperatures up to about 200 degrees Celsius. Both the diode formed using refractory metal borides and the diode formed using nickel gallides can withstand temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius.
This makes the diodes more reliable at lower temperatures and also opens them up to new applications.
Oder said diodes are used in oil and gas drilling, but temperatures increase when drilling at a rate of 25 degrees Celsius per kilometer of depth. Current diodes only allow for drilling up to five kilometers, where the temperatures are about 175 degrees Celsius because of the 200 degree limit. Oder’s diodes would allow for drilling rigs to go much deeper into the earth.
There are also applications for the diodes involving space exploration or hybrid and electric cars. Currently using the diodes in these scenarios requires a cooling system so they don’t overheat. With Oder’s diodes, the cooling systems would be unnecessary. This would reduce the cost and weight of producing the vehicles and improve performance.
Oder said he is hopeful that people will adopt his patents for commercial use.