Chemistry and biochemistry Professor Prabir Dutta, has been elected as a fellow of the prestigious National Academy of Inventors. Credit: courtesy of Prabir Dutta

Sixteen patents (and 12 pending), multiple spots on a prestigious inventor’s spotlight lists, and now a place on the globally recognized National Academy of Inventors won’t change modest inventor and Ohio State chemistry and biochemistry professor, Prabir Dutta, who, after being honored by the NAI, said it simply felt “very good.”

Dutta began his work as a scientist at Exxon Mobil, focusing on the industrial side of patents and publications, but quickly realized some of the patented products were worthless without licensing or companies to back it. That led him to Ohio State’s Technology Commercialization Office where he would aid in inventing things to be used in the real world — an emphasis he continues to look to today.

That way of thinking resulted in Dutta involving innovative forms of zeolite, an absorbent mineral that is often used as a water softener or to create gasoline from crude oil, in his inventions. He said Ohio State students, faculty and facilities helped to make his research possible.

“Our chair, professor Susan Olesik and Dean Christopher Hadad are very gung-ho on translating our departmental research to commercial products,” Dutta wrote in an email.

Additionally, his work with Ohio State students is something he wishes to translate in his role as part of the NAI.

“I would like to mentor young faculty and students to pursue translating their research ideas to reality,” he said.

Around 4,000 inventors are named to the NAI, according to its website, a nomination given to “the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors 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.”

Dutta also credited his start at Exxon Mobil and time at Ohio State to the honor bestowed on him.

“My years at Exxon motivated me to focus my research at OSU on applied chemistry problems,” Dutta said. “An important driving force for me was to make sure that my research gets used in the real world.”

Dutta said patents are useful if they address a societal need, but to become a viable product, they need company support to really take off, a struggle he and his colleagues at the Technology Commercialization Office endured early on.

Many of the companies they originally worked with did not have interest in putting in resources to support the patents created, he said.

“Our major success has come from a startup, Spirosure, that two Buckeyes, Solomon Ssenyange and Ryan Leard, started out in California,” Dutta said. “I worked with Solomon and Ryan to help solve some of the technical issues and they have been phenomenal in their perseverance and raising money and are going to get the product in the market in 2018.”

Motivated by Ssenyange and Leard, Dutta and another Buckeye, Bo Wang, started a company in Columbus called Zeovation, he said. The company has licensed three patents already, all involving zeolites.

With the election of the 2017 class, there are now 912 NAI Fellows, representing more than 250 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes. With Dutta’s election as a fellow, Ohio State now has eight members in several different fields, including chemical engineering, agriculture and veterinary medicine.

“It feels very good, I know most of them,” Dutta said about his election to the NAI. “It is an honor to join them.”

Dutta will be inducted into the NAI at a ceremony April 5 in Washington, D.C.