Three University of Arizona Faculty Named Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors

Dec. 7, 2021

Faculty elected have made impactful contributions in technology areas from sensors to wound treatment to heart problem diagnosis

Terry Matsunaga

This year's University of Arizona inductees into the National Academy of Inventors include Terry Matsunaga, a research professor of medical imaging at the College of Medicine – Tucson and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering.

University of Arizona Health Sciences

TUCSON, Ariz. – Three University of Arizona inventors have been selected as Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. The NAI Fellows Program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a 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. Election to NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors.

The new UArizona NAI Fellows include Professor of Medical Imaging Terry Matsunaga of the College of Medicine - Tucson, Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Biomedical Engineering Mark Van Dyke of the College of Engineering, and UArizona Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Liesl Folks. Folks also holds an appointment as a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering.

“Invention, technology transfer, and commercialization are a cornerstone of the University’s research enterprise, not in small part because this is one of the most direct ways in which we’re able to have an impact on the lives of real people,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, senior vice president of research and innovation. “I am thrilled that Drs. Matsunaga, Van Dyke, and Folks have received richly deserved recognition and fellowships from the NAI for their contributions to science and society.”

“Recent years have shown us – maybe more than any other time in recent memory – the immeasurable impact inventors can have on making a better world for all,” said Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, the UArizona office that commercializes inventions stemming from research. “My wish is that the spirit and drive of these three extraordinary faculty serve as a model for the many, many more innovators in our community whose work has the potential to address the challenges we face.” 

Liesl Folks, Innovating Miniaturized Magnets

Liesl Folks

Liesl Folks

Photo credit: Caroline King

Liesl Folks is the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost and holds the rank of Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona. Prior to her academic leadership positions, Folks had a long and successful career in industry innovation and research leadership. Building on her 16-year career in research and development working for companies like IBM and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST), she grew to become an internationally recognized expert in magnetic materials and devices, nanoscale metrology, and spin-electronic devices.

Folks holds 14 U.S. patents and has authored over 60 peer-reviewed papers. Her patents span technologies ranging from 3D memory arrays to EMR sensors to patterned magnetic recording media and more. Her work contributed to the optimization of miniaturized magnets that are used today in motors, cellphones, headphones, field sensors, and more. She has transitioned from industry and research into her role as a leader in higher education, and as such she has been a university champion for innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship, creating and supporting academic programs to encourage students of all levels to problem solve with impact as the goal.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized as a Fellow of the NAI, and hope to continue to support others to pursue innovation and entrepreneurship at all stages of their careers,” Folks said. “We urgently need creative and effective approaches to improving the well being of people across the world and securing a healthy environment – tasks that urgently require cross-disciplinary innovations.”

Mark Van Dyke, Solutions for Wound Treatment

Mark Van Dyke

Mark Van Dyke

With a career spanning both industry and academia, Van Dyke holds a deep commitment to discovery and innovation, as well as a dedication to seeing inventive ideas make their way forward to creating impact. His research has led to significant contributions in tissue engineering and trauma treatment, introducing the use of keratin-based biomaterials as treatments for burns, hemorrhage, bone healing, and peripheral nerve repair. He has 40 issued U.S. patents, over 160 scientific publications, and multiple books and chapters that bear his name. He has been honored with multiple awards and fellowships and has co-founded three startups with more than $70M in annual revenue and over 50 employees. Of his 40 patents, 30 have been either assigned or licensed, and his innovations have resulted in five impactful products, including novel dressings, gels, and creams for wound care.

“I am especially honored to receive this distinction because NAI acknowledges not only the quantity of an inventor’s work but importantly, the translation and impact,” said Van Dyke. “ I look forward to serving in the role of NIA Fellow and to helping support the US innovation enterprise.”

Terry Matsunaga, Microbubbles for Heart Problem Diagnosis

Matsunaga is a research professor of radiology in the College of Medicine – Tucson, and an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering at the UArizona. Dr. Matsunaga’s research focuses on using microbubble technology for cancer imaging and drug and gene delivery. As an inventor, he developed Definity™ microbubbles, a 1-5 micron microbubble technology using perfluorocarbons that can be injected during an echocardiogram to help diagnose or find problems in the heart. He was a principal in translating what became known as Perflutren microspheres into Phase I clinical trials, which culminated in the first human studies of the new intravascular ultrasound contrast agent MRX-115.

Terry is listed on 17 patent applications and is an inventor on 23 issued patents. His inventions have been licensed to two startups: Nanosonic Bioreagents, specializing in manufacturing unique chemical analysis mixtures with applications in medical imaging, clinical therapy, chemotherapy, and ablation therapy; and Triangle Biotechnology, specializing developing technologies that enable efficient acoustic processing of biological samples for next-generation sequencing and epigenetic assays.

“It is indeed an honor for myself, my family, my department for supporting me throughout, and all those students and colleagues who were there to turn those ideas into realities,” said Matsunaga. “ I am also very thankful to all at the University of Arizona for giving me the opportunity to spawn research creativity that has led to this award.  Frankly, it is they who deserve all the credit.”

The 2021 Fellow class hails from 116 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes worldwide. They collectively hold over 4,800 issued U.S. patents. Among the new class of Fellows are 33 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and three Nobel Laureates, as well as other honors and distinctions. Their collective body of research and entrepreneurship covers a broad range of scientific disciplines involved with technology transfer of their inventions for the benefit of society.

"The inclusion of our faculty members in this prestigious group of innovators speaks volumes about the tremendous work being done at the University of Arizona to create positive impact in people's lives," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "Dr. Folks, Dr. Matsunaga and Dr. Van Dyke are all deeply committed to exploration, which is one of the core values of our university, and I am proud to see their efforts recognized in this way."   

This year’s class also reflects NAI’s dedicated efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in its membership, with the addition of three outstanding academic female black inventors. The 2021 new Fellows will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors this upcoming June in Phoenix, Arizona.

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications