Kettering University faculty, students granted patents for chemical engineering process

Kettering University Chemistry and Chemical Engineering faculty and former students have been granted two patents in 2018.

Chemical Engineering faculty members Dr. Mary Gilliam and Dr. Susan Farhat, Chemistry faculty member Ali Zand, and former students collaborated on the work that lead to the patents. One patent is on a method for chemically changing the surface of micro- and nanoparticles to expand the use in applications such as composites, paints and coatings, and biomedical applications. The other is on coatings for internal biomedical devices, such as hip and knee implants, to increase the lifetime and potentially reduce the chance of inflammation or rejection.

The first patent, “Gilliam, M., Farhat, S., Garner, G., Magyar, M. Method and Apparatus for Surface Chemical Functionalization of Powders and Nanoparticles. U.S. Patent No. 9,994,683  June 12, 2018”, is for a method of treating the surface of nano and microparticles with atmospheric plasma to chemically modify the surface of the particles. One example of the invention was published in the peer-reviewed journal Plasma Processes and Polymers in 2014, in which hydrophobic polymer particles were treated using the plasma process, which resulted in a greater affinity for water.

“The article highlights the versatility of the atmospheric pressure process that can enable a wide variety of chemical changes through numerous types of chemicals that can be injected into the plasma or added directly to the stream of plasma-treated particles,” Gilliam said.

The process also offers an alternative surface treatment method that has a low environmental impact and can be scaled up to larger manufacturing processes.

“In one aspect, the treated particles could disperse into water without another solvent or added surfactant,” Farhat said. “Water is very safe, and it’s environmentally friendly. The process can be performed continuously using plasma at atmospheric pressure so it could be easily commercialized.”

Dr. Mary Gilliam, Graham Garner '18, and Dr. Susan Farhat

Graham Garner ‘18 and Michael Magyar ‘16, both of whom majored in Chemical Engineering, played key roles as undergraduate students in developing the process and conducting the experiments.

“It was something I was not expecting right away when I started at Kettering,” Garner said. “You think it’s something you’ll do later. It’s kind of overwhelming in a way.”

Gilliam, Farhat, and Zand were granted another patent, “Gilliam, M., Farhat, S., Zand, A. Wear Resistant and Biocompatible Coatings for Medical Devices and Method of Fabrication. U.S. Patent No. 10,058,889”, in August for a surface treatment for biomedical devices. In a hip replacement, a metal ball and joint with a plastic insert will replace the hip socket. As the ball moves, the materials start to wear and the body’s cells may start attacking the particles and eat away at the bone. They incorporated the atmospheric pressure plasma treatment to graft a non-toxic, biocompatible coating on the plastic surface that reduces friction and wear.

The coatings have been demonstrated in two published, peer-reviewed articles in Surface and Coatings Technology and the Journal of Biomaterials Science: Polymer Edition. The work involved several undergraduates students and a cross-disciplinary team at Kettering from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Biology, and McLaren Regional Medical Center. The coatings on the plastic surface significantly decreased the surface wear, which was attributed to the chemical changes and increased hydrophilicity. Cell viability tests using Mouse Embryonic Fibroblast cells showed that the coatings and surface treatments were non-toxic. Future work with the coatings process can include embedding drugs into the coating to fight infection, which can be a problem with joint replacements.

Kettering offers many opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in leading-edge research projects that can lead to patents and publications.

“For engineering and applied science students, the research experience provides valuable preparation to be innovators in their future careers,” Gilliam said.

Students participate in the research through independent study courses that count as electives, and paid positions that are part-time during school term or full-time during non-school terms.

“At Kettering, the research is very applied,” Farhat said. “Seeing the applications are good for students. They know the why. They see that this has a place in the real world.”