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ASU professor creates joint invention with MIT

November 18, 2009

For Arizona State University (ASU) Professor Thomas Moore, an invitation to guest lecture became a demonstration in a lab which led to a seafood lunch – which led to a joint invention with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that contributed to a sustainable energy start-up company.

Moore had been asked to speak at a summer course taught by well-known MIT Professor Daniel Nocera and, after the lecture, Moore was invited to the MIT labs for a demonstration of a new catalyst that could split water into hydrogen and oxygen – a potential pathway to sustainable energy production. As the demonstration came to a close, the group got hungry and headed to a local seafood restaurant for lunch. Over lobster and crab, the ensuing discussion led Moore to suggest that a type of solar cell he was developing could serve as a power source to enhance the ability of the catalyst to create this reaction. And the idea for a co-invention was born. 

MIT scientists had developed the catalyst and Moore, along with his co-inventors, came up with a dye-sensitized solar cell that could provide the power needed to make the system more cost-effective.   

“This is what happens when scientists get together to dream,” said Moore, director of the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis and a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “A scientist’s job is to translate dreams into reality and that’s what we set in motion that day.”  

Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), which manages intellectual property and technology transfer for ASU, entered into an agreement with MIT’s technology transfer office to protect and market Moore’s joint invention with MIT.   MIT then licensed the joint invention – along with other inventions from MIT – to Sun Catalytix (, a Cambridge, Mass.-based early-stage renewable energy start up.  

This progression of events is the perfect example of the value of scientific collaboration, according to AzTE Deputy Managing Director Ken Polasko.  

“Rarely does  one department or one institution ever hold all the solutions to the complex scientific and economic puzzles that face society today,” Polasko said. “The open nature of the University system facilitates the interaction of highly skilled researchers that, in this case, may lead to a pathway for sustainable energy production.”