Andrew “Drew” Weisenberger, head of the Experimental Nuclear Physics Division’s Radiation Detector and Imaging Group, recently accepted the additional role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Jefferson Lab.
As part of the detector group, Weisenberger has spent years advancing research to improve particle detector technology and seeking ways that discoveries in his field can be applied outside of the lab’s basic research program. He is part of the team that worked on the components and technology that brought to life a breast-cancer diagnostic device – a molecular-imaging camera – now commercially produced and sold by Dilon Technologies that can detect the tiniest of breast cancer tumors. Today that camera is used in hospitals and medical diagnostic centers around the world.
As Chief Technology Officer, Weisenberger, 57, who will continue leading the detector group, hopes to use his knowledge and skills to help researchers from across the lab see how their work can benefit society and lead to new or improved commercial applications.
He will advise lab researchers on how to make their discoveries and technological advancements accessible for potential industrial and commercial use. He will also lead the lab's and inventors' efforts in reaching out to academic partners and industrial and commercial entities to make them aware of the advancements being made at the lab.
“There are a lot of opportunities for new technology,” Weisenberger says. “When you’re in science, you’re always trying to think from new perspectives.”
These efforts, commonly referred to as technology transfer or “tech transfer”, encourage research laboratories like Jefferson Lab to share information about their discoveries and advancements, in order to inspire the development of new industrial processes and commercial products or services. The goal of technology transfer is to find ways to use the lab’s expertise that can benefit society and the U.S. economy, and address critical problems, Weisenberger says. Although a small lab, he points out that Jefferson Lab has proven to be a valuable asset to the community in its work with its free-electron laser, nuclear imaging capabilities and science education outreach.
Weisenberger’s responsibilities as CTO include chairing the lab’s Technology Review Committee (TRC) and working with Chief Financial Officer/Business Operations Manager, Joe Scarcello, to oversee technology transfer activities across the lab.
“You put together this driven group of people, and new ideas pop out,” Weisenberger says. “Often a new idea can be used outside of what you (the inventor) came up with.”
Weisenberger, has served on the lab's TRC for several years as its physics division representative, and he says he’s looking forward to further helping others to consider whether their work has patent possibility. He and the committee help researchers navigate the patent system and to look for ways their work might have applications beyond the lab such as in healthcare or manufacturing.
The TRC plays an important role at Jefferson Lab and is always looking for scientists to submit invention disclosures for their discoveries – a step necessary to determine the viability of seeking a patent for their work.
This is more critical than ever since the “first-inventor-to-file” change in U.S. patent law that took effect on March 16, 2013.
Once someone earns a patent, the committee then looks for ways to license that patent for applications outside the lab.
Jefferson Lab, where researchers work every day to understand the forces and particles that make up matter, holds more than 100 patents. Weisenberger’s name is on 15 of those.
Among the patents Weisenberger holds is one involving the development of a small-animal imaging system that allows mice to be studied without the use of anesthesia (when it would normally be necessary). That system is currently in use at Johns Hopkins University where it has been put to work for awake-animal brain studies (without the complication of anesthesia).
Weisenberger, a native of Pennsylvania, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in astronomy and a Ph.D. from The College of William and Mary in applied science. He came to Jefferson Lab after working as a research associate with the Institute for Space Science and Technology in Gainesville, Fla., where he was part of a team that developed experiments that were conducted on the space shuttle, and was involved in a project that examined Halley’s Comet. Weisenberger joined the lab in 1990 as a staff scientist with the detector group, after meeting Stan Majewski, then director of the group.
Although he always has been interested in the space program, Weisenberger acknowledges that he is fascinated by all sciences. Physics, as the backbone of all sciences, became his focus.
“I was very lucky,” Weisenberger says. “I kept moving in the direction I found interesting. And here I am.”
More recently, Weisenberger has been directing the development and testing of plant imaging equipment that uses nuclear physics detector techniques for plant biology research. The devices, which study how plant physiology changes under environmental stresses, are being used in studies at Duke University.
He feels his work as head of the detector group meshes well with his efforts as CTO. “Based on our basic research mission, I’m excited about the tech transfer opportunities we could pursue,” he says.
The announcement naming Weisenberger as Jefferson Lab’s new CTO was made on Feb. 10 in a lab-wide email. The lab’s previous CTO, Roy Whitney, retired on Aug. 1, 2014.
By Kim O’Brien Root