Gordon Thomas, a professor of physics, prolific researcher and exuberant mentor, was inducted last month into the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) at a ceremony that brought together luminaries from fields ranging from bioinformatics to protein engineering to intelligent mechanical systems.
Thomas is the first professor from NJIT to be named an NAI Fellow. His creations - from medical devices, to weapons sensors, to optical communications fiber - are remarkable for their diversity as well as their ingenuity and practicality. His growing portfolio of inventions currently includes 23 issued and pending patents.
"It's neat to represent NJIT physics in a group that has done so much, whose inventions have both saved lives and launched companies. Four of the fellows in my class won Nobel Prizes for their work," Thomas said of the experience.
His class of fellows includes such noted engineers, scientists and technologists as Steven Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate who is now a professor of physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University. Thomas and Chu, who are both American Physical Society fellows, were also colleagues at Bell Labs earlier in their careers.
The academy describes its fellows as pioneers 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."
Collectively, the 414 NAI Fellows hold nearly 14,000 issued U.S. patents and include 61 presidents and senior leaders at research universities and non-profit research institutes, 212 members of the other National Academies, 23 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, among other awards and distinctions, according to the NAI.
Chu was one of the keynote speakers at the ceremony, which took place at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
"My talks with these professors indicate that although academia prizes research papers, as it should, it still prizes patents less than it should, although that is changing across the country as it is at NJIT," Thomas recounted.
"To me, patents are satisfying because they have the potential to help people directly," he added. "In my lab, we're working on devices to help people with diabetes, glaucoma, and brain injuries, as well as on methods to protect soldiers from ammunition exploding in transport. This work is also satisfying because it presents such difficult challenges. Often a patent takes years to create and a team to develop."
One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com.