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Innovation Honored with First Class of Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

Florida Inventors Hall of Fame
The first class of the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame (clockwise from top left: Robert Cade, Thomas Edison, William Glenn, Shin-Tson Wu, John Gorrie and Shyam Mohapatra)

Innovation will be honored Wednesday night as the inaugural class is inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame at a private ceremony in Tampa.

Six pioneers will be enshrined into the Hall, including Dr. Robert Cade, the University of Florida researcher who developed the energy drink Gatorade, and Dr. John Gorrie, who invented the ice-making machine and is considered the father of a product most Floridians couldn’t live without – air conditioning!

And Doctor Paul Sanberg, the chair of the Hall's advisory board, asks how can you have an inventors' hall of fame without arguably the most renowned inventor of all time, Thomas Edison?

"People (say), ‘Thomas Edison? Why Thomas Edison?’ Well for those that have gone down to Fort Myers and seen Thomas Edison’s house and lab, they can see right away that he loved Florida, he lived down here and he had a laboratory which was very important to him," Sanberg said.

Other honorees include liquid crystal display researcher, Dr. Shin-Tson Wu from the University of Central Florida, and Florida Atlantic University’s Dr. William Glenn, who developed the high-definition camera for NASA.

The final inductee, Dr. Shyam Mohapatra, a Distinguished Professor at the University of South Florida, is working in the relatively new field of nanotechnology.

"Nanotechnology, or nanoscale technology, really means to work in a very, very small level, and that’s really atomic level, or to make it very simple, a nanometer is actually one-millionth of a pinhead," Mohapatra said.

Yet even at that cellular level, he's helped invent biomedical diagnostic and treatment methods for viral infections and diseases like cancer, asthma and diabetes.

"Think about having a wristwatch-like device which will be able to not only monitor glucose levels in the blood, but also will give you the insulin that your body needs," Mohapatra said. "So we’re talking about that kind of device that’s possible at the nanoscale level."

This kind of ingenuity and creativity has paid off on multiple levels. Mohapatra’s research has brought USF over $20 million in funding and has led to a number of companies being spun off from the university.

Yet he still has a hard time grasping the fact that he's in the inaugural class alongside men like Edison and Gorrie, who invented ground-breaking products that have stood the test of time.

"I just couldn’t believe it, because nanotechnology is at such a young stage – the products from nanotechnology are just beginning to emerge," Mohapatra said.

Credit Florida Inventors Hall of Fame
Florida Inventors Hall of Fame

Sanberg, the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at USF, says the idea for the Florida Inventors Hall came as he perused the list of members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia.

"As I’m looking through this really thick book, and I don’t really see many Florida inventors in there," Sanberg said. "I’m thinking ‘Why aren’t there significant Florida inventors being honored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame?’ and so I thought, ‘Well maybe we should do that in the state of Florida.’"

The Florida Hall is one of only seven state halls in the country, and is backed by a number of state universities and research organizations. 

Sanberg says eight members of those groups made up the selection committee, which picked the inaugural class out of a few dozen nominees.

"The nice thing is that we’re going to keep the candidates that didn’t get it this year in the pool, because there are some great candidates in Florida which will be great for the Inventors Hall of Fame," he said.

And while there’s no physical structure for the Hall just yet, a display honoring the first six inductees will likely go up at USF’s Tampa campus later this year.

"You know, this is brand new for us and this is brand new for the state, and we want to make it something that they can really cherish and be proud of," Sanberg said.

Shyam Mohapatra adds that the possibility of one day joining him in the Hall of Fame should motivate Florida’s future inventors to keep pursuing their dreams – and push educators to help them do that.

"It’s a culture thing that you really have to train people to think differently, think outside the box, those are the ideas that come early on and we have to really start school level, high school level and the graduate level – not the stage where I am now," Mohapatra said with a chuckle.

Commissioner for Patents Margaret "Peggy" Focarino of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will speak at the sold-out induction ceremony, which will be hosted by Home Shopping Network host Bill Green.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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