Pioneering Inventors at USF

MIT’s Robert Langer delivers the keynote address to nearly 200 innovators attending the National Academy of Inventors Conference.

Robert Langer at the National Academy of Inventors Conference at USF.                       Photo: Aimee Blodgett | USF News


By Judy Lowry

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2013) – Robert Langer, acclaimed MIT chemical engineer, told the nearly 200 scientists and innovators gathered from around the globe for the annual meeting of the National Academy of Inventors his secret—in the face of “everyone” telling you it is impossible, “find a way that works.”


Langer is a pioneer of new technologies that include transdermal drug delivery systems that have revolutionized the treatment of brain tumors, schizophrenia, and addiction. 


He and his research team have also made advances in tissue engineering, such as the creation of blood vessels and muscle tissue. His MIT research lab is the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world. Its inventions include small implantable chips containing doses of medication that can safely be released into the body on command by remote control.


Langer shared his journey as a scientist after receiving his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974. In trying to discover how to move large molecules through polymers inside the body, he was told repeatedly that it couldn’t be done. In fact, upon hearing his first research presentation, scientists in the audience simply didn’t believe him.


“I found over 200 different ways it would not work, and finally found one way it did work,” Langer said.


When he filed for a patent on the technology, the patent examiner denied it, calling his discovery “obvious.”  Langer had to solicit signed affidavits from other top scientists who had reviewed his research and found his discovery “surprising.”  With that assurance, the patent was granted.


Since then Langer has received 810 issued and pending patents worldwide and has been recognized with over 220 major awards and prizes, including being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He is one of only three Americans to have won both the United States National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. 


Forbes selected Langer as one of 15 innovators worldwide who will “reinvent our future,” and Parade Magazine named him one of six “heroes whose research may save your life.” 


The NAI was founded at the University of South Florida.  In welcoming the inventors to USF, President Judy Genshaft said: “Investments in research pay off.  Inventors are building a resilient economy for the next century.”


The conference continues through Feb. 22 with presentations by more than 20 distinguished scientists and academic leaders, including Margaret Focarino, U.S. Commissioner for Patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, who will also induct the NAI Charter Fellows—101 top scientists and innovation leaders from 56 research universities and non-profit research institutes.


About the National Academy of Inventors


The National Academy of Inventors is a 501(c)3 non-profit member organization comprised of more than 55 U.S. and international universities and non-profit research institutes, with over 2,000 individual academic inventor members, and growing rapidly. It was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with a patent issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society. The NAI offices are located in the University of South Florida Research Park of Tampa Bay.  The NAI edits the multidisciplinary journal, Technology and Innovation – Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors, published by Cognizant Communication Corporation (NY).


Judy Lowry can be reached at