Intellectual Ventures to bring lab inventions to D.C. for tech expo

At this year’s Intellectual Ventures technology expo on Capitol Hill, visitors can see a scale model of a traveling wave nuclear reactor; a photonic fence (a virtual fence that detects and destroys insects with a laser by zapping them as they cross its plane), and a vaccine storage system that allows remote clinics to store life-saving vaccines for up to a month without electricity.

That’s just for starters. Displays at the June 29 event will give guests a little taste of the endless innovation smorgasbord available to guests at IV’s nearly 90,000-square-foot laboratory across the country in Bellevue, Washington. The lab works with 11 of the United States’ top 50 inventors that include the two most prolific American inventors ever, Dr. Lowell Wood and Dr. Rod Hyde.

As visually impressive as these technologies are, the how is a big part of the wow. For example, the prototype for the photonic fence is now in its third generation. Technical project lead Arty Makagon recently told the IV blog, “We have videos of earlier tests where you can see via high-speed camera that we burned the wings off mosquitos. That’s neat to watch, but it turns out that it’s gratuitous overkill – and so that isn’t how the machine works now. After we shoot a bug, when we look at it under a microscope, we can’t tell where it was shot. There are no singe marks and no gaping wounds.

“So how did the bug die? We sent samples to the University of Washington histology lab and found out that essentially we end up cooking the bug. Our laser acts like a very precise, ‘short-wavelength microwave oven.’ When you look at a cross-section of a chicken breast cooked in a microwave and a cross-section of a bug dosed with a laser, they essentially look the same.”

The fence was invented as a pesticide-free defense against the spread of malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people a year. The device is also being considered as a means for combating agricultural pests.

That killing machine is in stark contrast to the Arktek vaccine storage system and its unique potential to save lives. Arktek uses super insulation techniques similar to those for storing cryogenic fluids and protecting spacecraft from extreme temperatures. Once stocked with ice, the system can keep vaccines at the correct temperature for a month or more.

The sensitive nature of vaccines is dramatically illustrated by the fact that about 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines can spoil if they’re not kept at precise temperatures, from manufacture to use.

The expo, open to the public, will be from noon to 5 p.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer, across from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Using equipment that studies photonics, nanotechnology, chemistry, biology and other disciplines, Intellectual Ventures researchers are granted hundreds of patents each year. Lab-invented technologies have been used as the foundation for five new venture-backed start-up companies. IV has infused more than $2.3 billion into the economy since 2000; more than half of that has been paid to independent inventors, start-ups and subject matter experts, and to universities and governments.