Team Wins Second Katzman Award

Winners of the fifth annual Howard Katzman Innovation Award

Winners of the fifth annual Howard Katzman Innovation Award, from left to right, Frank Livingston, Lee Steffeney, Henry Helvajian, and Peter Fuqua. Not pictured, William Hansen. Photography by Elisa Haber.

A team of five Aerospace employees received the fifth annual Howard Katzman Innovation Award on Feb. 9 at a reception in the Lauritsen Library for developing a technique to manipulate photosensitive ceramic glass.

This patented technique has been licensed to Invenios Inc., a company that is using it to produce glass slides called “flow cells” that hold DNA samples for DNA sequencing with a machine made by Illumina Inc.

The inventors, Dr. Peter Fuqua, William Hansen, Dr. Henry Helvajian, Dr. Frank Livingston, and Lee Steffeney, were honored at the reception in celebration of Thomas Edison’s birthday and National Inventor’s Day, sponsored by the Library and Information Resources Center and Intellectual Property Programs. The same team won the first Katzman award in 2008.

In recent news, Roche Pharmaceuticals is making a hostile bid of $5.7B to acquire Illumina specifically for the DNA sequencing technology. Flow cell technology was one of the things that helped reduce the cost of DNA sequencing for an individual from millions of dollars to around $4,000.

Flow cells have tiny lanes etched into their surface that contain the patient’s DNA and all the chemistry that is required for the sequencing process to occur. But until now, it has not been possible to mass produce these slides inexpensively.

The Aerospace method for micro-machining glass works by using a laser that is focused at the precise area in the photosensitive glass where the miniaturized structures are to be placed. This method has fewer costly steps than previous methods.

The Aerospace team originally developed the process for micro-machining glass in order to make miniature propulsion systems for “nano” spacecraft. Since then, the technique is also being adapted to create tiny 3D antennae embedded in glass for broadband wireless systems.

The technology took about 15 years to travel from Aerospace’s laboratories to medical laboratories.