New Company Formed on Award-Winning Invention

by C. Benjamin Ford * Staff Writer

Excerpted from The Gazette Newspapers

Until a colleague approached him after a lecture in San Diego last summer, University of Maryland Associate Professor Balakumar Balachandran did not see a commercial application for his invention.

Working on a fiber-optic sensor system for gauging vibrations from acoustics, pressure and acceleration made for interesting research with engineering graduate students Miao Yu and Moustafa Al-Bassyiouni, but basing a business on the project never occurred to him.

This week, that is exactly what's happening.

The company, called Odexia, is incorporating with plans to open in College Park, Balachandran said. Dan Goodman, who will serve as CEO, said he has spoken to several venture capitalists about funding. No plans have been made on staffing yet.

"We're in final preparations and will open this week," Goodman said. The university is negotiating with the company to license the technology. Balachandran will serve either as a consultant or chief technology officer.

Some of the advantages Balachandran cited in his fiber-optic system include its high sensitivity and its ability to be miniaturized to the microscopic level for micro-electromechanical systems.

It has a wide range of potential uses in the defense industry and commercial businesses, he said, from fiber tip-based microphones to acoustic measurements that can determine whether automobiles, aircraft and ships have metal fatigue damage.

The same invention also can be used to improve acoustics in theaters, said Balachandran, who received "Physical Science Invention of the Year" honors.

The first idea for the invention came in 1996, "but it didn't pan out," he said.

The professor, who has been with the University of Maryland since 1993, did his undergraduate work at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India, and received his doctorate at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

Goodman, of Olney, also serves as the entrepreneur in residence at the university, and has worked to help other professors in developing companies and to think about their research as having potential for commercialization.

Goodman said it is too early to determine the potential economic value of the new technology.

An independent panel selects the invention winners from the areas of information, life and physical science for the awards program, sponsored by the University of Maryland's Office of Technology Commercialization.

The university opened the Office of Technology Commercialization in 1986 to turn inventions into business products. Since then, more than 115 different technologies developed at the university have been licensed more than 600 times to businesses and industries.

Published May 2, 2003