University of Utah mechanical engineering Chair Bruce Gale and electrical and computer engineering and materials science and engineering Distinguished Professor Gerald Stringfellow both were elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors for 2021.

The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors, with more than 1,400 fellows worldwide. This distinction is given to those who demonstrate 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.” The academy is a nonprofit organization that recognizes and encourages inventors, enhances the visibility of universities, educates and mentors students, and publicizes the inventions of its members.

Stringfellow and Gale will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony to be held at the NAI Annual Meeting June 13-15, in Phoenix. They are the only two faculty members from the U to be elected to this year’s class.

Gerald Stringfellow

Gerald “Jerry” Stringfellow earned a bachelor’s in ceramic engineering from the University of Utah and master’s and doctorate degrees in materials science from Stanford.

He is known for his work with light emitting diodes and proposed a process called organometallic vapor-phase epitaxy for the growth of new semiconductor alloys in which aluminum, gallium, indium and phosphorous are deposited on a substrate to create red, orange, yellow and green LED crystals. This work led to better HP handheld calculators that used red LEDs for the display.

In 1980, Stringfellow took his research to the University of Utah, where he worked as a professor. He made considerable conceptual advances in the field and would later publish a book on the process that has now become the bible for the science of growing LED crystals.

Stringfellow’s work, alongside the development of blue LEDs by three Japanese researchers, led to the advancement of flat-screen LCD televisions (LEDs illuminate the LCD panels), cellphones, solar cells, and new LED light bulbs. LED technology is also used in automobile taillights as well as traffic and pedestrian lights.

He received the International Organization for Crystal Growth’s Frank Prize, the top award in the field of semiconductor growth, for his career-long work making light-emitting diodes in 2016. He has received other top awards, including the Rosenblatt Prize from the U and the John Bardeen Award from The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. He was appointed dean of the U’s College of Engineering from 1998 to 2003.

“It is an honor, and I am grateful to have been elected to fellowship this year,” Stringfellow said. “I don’t consider myself an inventor in the traditional sense because I don’t make things. I invent new concepts that help us select materials and processes to improve the production of semiconductor devices, some of which are patented.

Bruce Gale

Bruce Gale received a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University and a doctorate in bioengineering from the University of Utah.

His research is focused on the biomedical applications of microfluidics as well as the design and manufacturing methods for medical devices such as biosensors, microarrays, micropumps, and microneedles. He has developed tools for drug development, pathogen detection, fast PCR technologies, and more.

“I am excited to receive recognition at this level,” said Gale. “Looking at the other fellows, it’s a great group of people to be associated with.”

In addition to the patents Gale has received for his work, he has also spun off multiple companies. The earliest company, originally Wasatch Microfluidics and now called Carterra, provides technology that helps rapidly discover new antibody-based drugs, which are becoming very common. Their technology is in 17 of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies and was used to help develop one of the drugs used to treat COVID-19. Another company, WFluidx, builds a device for genotyping zebra fish embryos which are used to test potential treatments for certain genetic diseases in humans. Around 100 labs around the world are using this device.

“Microfluidics is a great tool for manipulating biological materials,” said Gale, “which is why so much of our work is application-oriented.”

Gale also has spun out additional companies that help develop and manufacture microfluidic devices, treat male infertility, as well as quickly detect pathogens.

“Our projects are almost all inventing something,” said Gale. “We get to do a lot of different things, the students really enjoy it, and I have a lot of fun.”

Stringfellow and Gale join past University of Utah fellows including College of Engineering Dean Richard B. Brown; former president David W. Pershing; electrical and computer engineering professor Cynthia M. Furse and materials science and engineering professor Ling Zang.