Four ASU faculty named Senior Members of National Academy of Inventors

Four new NAI Senior Members

(From left) David Allee, Sidney Hecht, Jianming Liang and Nongjian Tao are in the inaugural class of Senior Members at the National Academy of Inventors. Senior Members have demonstrated success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

Exemplifying Arizona State University’s commitment to innovation and impact, four faculty members have been named Senior Members of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). David Allee, Sidney Hecht, Jianming Liang and Nongjian Tao join an elite group of faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI member institutions in the inaugural class of 66 Senior Members.

Senior Members have demonstrated success in patents, licensing and commercialization. According to the NAI, “They have produced technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. Senior Members also foster a spirit of innovation within their communities through enhancing an inventive atmosphere at their institutions, while educating and mentoring the next generation of inventors.”

“The four ASU faculty members selected as 2019 NAI Senior Members have shown exemplary dedication to innovation with societal benefit. They embody ASU’s unwavering commitment to use-inspired research that continues to serve our communities and impact lives around the world. The recognition is well-deserved,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

Advancing flexible technology

David Allee is the associate director and a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. He has co-authored more than 125 scientific publications and holds 14 U.S. patents.

From 2004 to 2016, Allee was the director of research and development for backplane electronics at ASU’s Flexible Electronics and Display Center (FEDC), established in partnership with the U.S. Army. There, he investigated a variety of flexible electronics applications with a focus on large-area sensing arrays for radiation detection and electric and magnetic field imaging. 

Allee mentored a group of graduate and undergraduate students at FEDC, collaborating to innovate solutions to complex issues related to the U.S. Army. Half of the participants have co-authored one or more research papers.

Innovating disease treatment

Sidney Hecht is a professor of chemistry in the School of Molecular Sciences and director of the Biodesign Center for Bioenergetics. He studies diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. Hecht has 35 issued U.S. patents, eight of which have been licensed.

Hycamtin, a commercial product that Hecht invented, is second-line therapy for ovarian cancer and can be used in treating small-cell lung cancer, as well as cervical cancer. He also aided in the timely commercialization of Monocid, an antibiotic now commonly used to treat a wide range of infections.

Hecht co-founded Orchid Cellmark, a DNA-testing firm, as well as Pinnacle Pharmaceuticals and Edison Pharmaceuticals. Through the pharmaceutical companies, he discovered and patented a way to improve clinically used antibacterial agents, increased the effectiveness of a drug used to manage pain with urinary tract infections and designed a compound that aids in the treatment of mitochondrial disorders.

Improving diagnostics with AI

Jianming Liang is an associate professor in the College of Health Solutions at ASU. He studies computer-aided diagnosis, specifically for lung and colon cancer, as well as pulmonary embolism. He developed two products to help radiologists diagnose lung and colon cancers more accurately and efficiently. These products are sold around the world and used to benefit millions of people.

In 2016, Liang co-founded VoxelCloud, a company that uses artificial intelligence cloud-computing technologies to provide automated medical image analysis and assistance for diagnostics.

Liang has 26 issued U.S. patents and an additional 30 patents pending, in addition to 80 peer-reviewed publications. He has mentored nine students who have all been awarded at least one patent. Liang demonstrates ASU’s commitment to interdisciplinarity through his research combining technology, engineering and health sciences for direct and immediate societal impacts.

Leading mobile health technology

Nongjian Tao is the director of the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and a professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and School of Molecular Sciences. His work focuses on molecular electronics and nanoelectronics, chemical and biological sensors and wireless devices for mobile health and the environment.

Tao holds 10 patents and has published 200 journal articles and book chapters, in addition to giving more than 200 invited talks internationally.

In 2013, Tao founded Breezing, a startup company that developed the first portable metabolism tracker. The device uses individuals’ breath to measure their metabolic rates to achieve a healthy weight and lifestyle. Breezing was recently named a 2018 Arizona Innovation Challenge winner by the Arizona Commerce Authority.


The NAI is a member organization made up of U.S. and international universities and government and nonprofit research institutes. Its purpose is to encourage inventors to share their products, mentor and educate students, and communicate its members’ inventions for the betterment of society.

ASU is one of NAI’s nine sustaining member institutions, with nine Fellows to date. Under Panchanathan’s leadership, ASU launched its own NAI chapter in 2017 to promote invention and recognize innovation across the university, with 44 current members.

NAI Senior Members undergo a two-step selection process, including internal NAI review and consideration by the Advisory Committee. The committee comprises elected NAI members and other professionals considered pioneers in their respective field.

Senior Members are elected quarterly, and nominations are accepted on a rolling basis. Nominations are being accepted for the Spring 2019 class on the NAI website.

Written by Madison Arnold

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