Our People: Adam Akullian

Adam Akullian is a postdoctoral researcher with Intellectual Ventures’ Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). A National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, Adam is currently focused on mathematical and epidemiological modeling of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, with the goal of informing effective public health interventions. We met with Adam recently to discuss what brought him to IDM, his hopes for the future, and how collecting snails in China convinced him to pursue a Ph.D. in Epidemiology.  

Our People: Adam Akullian

What are you currently working on at IDM?

I am closing in on my first year of work with the HIV team at IDM, having recently received my Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. My background is in infectious disease epidemiology and geo-spatial analysis. At IDM, I’m helping the team gather data from regions of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest HIV burden and incidence. We’re using a mathematical model developed by my colleagues at IDM to simulate the potential impact of different interventions on the HIV epidemic. For example, we might ask, would a behavioral invention (like promoting condom use) or a biomedical intervention (like expanding access to antiretroviral therapy or increasing uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC)) prevent the most new infections? And, which groups should we target for these interventions?

How did you decide to pursue epidemiology?

I started out in the natural sciences at Brown University and got a job through UC Berkeley collecting snails in China. These tiny snails live in the ditches of rice farming villages in rural communities and transmit Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease in humans that infects millions of people globally. It was a disease ecology project to understand how environmental change might expand the geographic habitat of the snail population and how that would drive disease spread in the region.

It was at that intersection of ecology, infectious disease, and geography that I really found a passion for public health and saw epidemiology as almost a natural fit for me. Once I completed my Ph.D., IDM was a great opportunity for me because it values multidisciplinary thinking.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the sciences or specifically public health?

Being able to speak other people’s languages – both literally and in terms of the different scientific disciplines – is extremely important. It broadens your range of tools and makes you much more adaptive. Try and remember not to be intimidated by those already in the field and make a point to reach out to those who inspire you. In my experience, they’re usually pretty generous with their knowledge and excited to talk about their work.

What inspires you?

Traveling. One of the great things about my job is being able to travel to many different places. I spend much of my day doing quantitative analysis, so traveling allows me to meet the people we’re trying to help as well as connect with the local research community. Those interactions help me gain a more nuanced understanding of the context of my research. Being able to connect and share ideas with other people is really what inspires me.

What breakthrough do you hope to see during your lifetime?

We still don’t completely understand why HIV spreads so rapidly in certain demographic groups. We’re on the cusp of understanding why, but we’re not quite there yet. Really understanding who is transmitting to whom is very difficult information to obtain for numerous reasons, and in many ways, it’s a bit of a black box for researchers. Now there are new scientific methods that we can use to genotype the DNA from viruses so we can piece together a much better understanding of the transmission network. I’m hopeful, that in my lifetime, we’ll see the end of AIDS.

What’s the most rewarding part about working at IDM?

It’s the academic freedom. Because we are not beholden to granting agencies there’s a lot more freedom to explore high risk, high reward areas of research. In the true sense of the word, IDM feels like a laboratory.

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Trailblazing the Modern Computer Age in the 19th Century: Ada Lovelace

Computers have become such an integral part of our daily lives, it is difficult to imagine a time when their only use was thought to be solving math problems. In the early 19th century – well before the advent of innovative mouse technology or even typewriters – it was widely believed that computers would never have a use beyond crunching numbers. 

Trailblazing the Modern Computer Age in the 19th Century: Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace portrait, Alfred Edward Chalon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It turns out it was a visionary woman – Ada Lovelace – who was one of the first trailblazers to challenge previously held conceptions about computers’ limitations.

Lovelace was a brilliant mathematician, recognized as the world’s first computer programmer and deemed the “Enchantress of Numbers” by an inventor of the earliest computer, Charles Babbage, himself. Though Ada Lovelace was the Countess of Lovelace, she has become widely known for her pursuits beyond her role as an English noblewoman.

After meeting Babbage, Lovelace grew fascinated with his work on mechanical computers, particularly his second invention, the Analytical Engine. (Did you know his first invention was the Difference Engine No. 2 – one of our favorite inventions displayed at IV headquarters?) It was Lovelace’s work with Babbage that made the invention of the Analytical Engine possible.

Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine include the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. She also boldly predicted that future versions of Babbage’s engine could be programmed to conduct scientific research and compose “elaborate and scientific pieces of music.” The idea that computers could be programmed to manipulate symbols and transcend their use as calculators was far ahead of her time. Lovelace’s original vision of the use of computers for both calculation and computation mirrors our reality today – nearly 200 years later.  

Lovelace’s display of bravery in expressing a groundbreaking idea is a common characteristic among so many successful inventors throughout history and today. Lovelace was also a bold trailblazer for women inventors, read about other women inventors who have paved the way here

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Invention Science Fund Partnering with NAMIC to Create New 3D Printing Technologies

There’s hardly an industry 3D printing doesn’t promise to revolutionize. From rocket engine injectors to life-like prosthetics, it’s undeniable that 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a huge field of technological opportunity. 

Invention Science Fund Partnering with NAMIC to Create New 3D Printing Technologies

An ultrasonic scan of a 3D-printed stainless steel block shows a pattern of voids (red dots) printed beneath the surface. The voids are clearly visible, and simple image processing software can read the pattern – in this case, an 8-digit embedded code.

As a global inventions company, Intellectual Ventures (IV) is proud to collaborate with institutions that are similarly committed to building a global innovation ecosystem. Recently, IV’s Invention Science Fund (ISF) partnered with National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) to further develop 3D printing machine and service capabilities with a wide-range of potential market applications.

Located in Singapore, NAMIC is led by NTUitive, the innovation and enterprise company of Nanyang Technological University, in partnership with the National University of Singapore, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Nanyang Technological University, SPRING Singapore, Economic Development Board and National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister’s office. “We’re extremely proud to partner with the fantastic organizations in Singapore,” said Jerome Hewlett, ISF vice president, “as we continue to establish a pioneering future together.”

Formed in the fall of 2015, NAMIC seeks to foster public-private sector collaboration and innovation in the 3D printing marketplace while strengthening Singapore’s manufacturing sectors, a significant percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product. NAMIC is also focused on building and catalyzing an ecosystem for the growth of new businesses and business models with 3D printing technologies, enabling start-ups as well as small and medium enterprises with cost-effective 3D printing solutions for adoption in their companies.

Dr. Ho Chaw Sing, managing director of NAMIC and NTUitive, noted that “3D printing will transform the way we manufacture products and distribute them to the customers. Our collaboration with Intellectual Ventures is focused on methodologies and solutions in the digital supply chain as it becomes more ubiquitous in the manufacturing world.”

ISF and NAMIC collaborated on the development of an Embedded Identifier Module (EIM), a technology that allows 3D printers to watermark unique identifiers within a variety of materials. The initial EIM development was implemented in stainless steel. Built on intellectual property held by IV’s ISF, the EIM is nearly impossible to remove or alter and can be read by a variety of readers or sensing methods. “With counterfeiting increasing globally, this technology has the potential to help safeguard authenticity, which stands as a growing concern for businesses and consumers alike,” said Casey Tegreene, ISF executive vice president.

“This project addresses what will become important issues as the 3D printing market matures, issues relating to anti-counterfeiting measures,” explained Dr. Lim Jui, CEO of NTUitive. He went on to say, “We are thrilled to be working on this project with Intellectual Ventures and even more thrilled that the project has yielded such excellent results in such a short time.”

To learn more about how we use 3D printing at IV Lab here in Bellevue, check out this post. And follow along for more news about the future of transformative technologies like additive manufacturing.

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Cory Van Arsdale on licensing, collaboration and the future of patenting

At Intellectual Ventures, part of our business involves providing customers and partners worldwide with patents and invention-related services. As a result, Senior Vice President of Global Licensing Cory Van Arsdale has great perspective on the state of the global intellectual property ecosystem.

Cory Van Arsdale on licensing, collaboration and the future of patenting

Cory recently sat down with IPPro Patents to weigh in on the state of technology and patent licensing; check out a few of his thoughts below. For the full interview, be sure to read Issue 11 of IPPro Patents.

How are tech companies branching into new technologies?

Tech companies, at least the ones that embrace the future and where it’s headed, are continually embracing new technologies to the extent it brings them new markets and/or takes them where their existing market is headed. This is true for what would be traditionally not considered a tech company as well.

As an example, several tech companies are investing heavily into driverless cars. They are doing this not by investing in traditional car IP, but rather by leveraging what is their core expertise in tech and where cars seem to be headed.

Non-tech companies are also investing heavily in technology, particularly when technology has the ability to disintermediate their value stream. An example there is banking. Five years ago, it was somewhat rare to use your mobile phone to do any banking other than perhaps looking up your account balance. Now, I, like several individuals, have not even been in a bank branch in the last few years, as I use my mobile to make check deposits, transfer funds to anyone, anywhere, and generally operate my banking life.

How big and important is the licensing business?

Overall, licensing has been and always will be a critical part of our economy. From Thomas Edison to today, licensing is an efficient industry model to enable innovation and invention from all corners of the economy.

As for licensing in the current and near future environment, it is highly dependent upon both the timeframe and the applicable industry.

With respect to particular industries, it will depend in large part upon the relevant players in that industry. I do believe that licensing will be an integral part of any industry, either directly or indirectly.

In areas where companies are not the leaders, how can they put their patents to work?

A licensing program is certainly an option here, although most companies are unwilling to devote the time, resources and headcount to licensing activities. [So] Intellectual Ventures works with many companies to acquire patents from them and thereby monetize their portfolio efforts.

This allows companies to make educated bets in certain spaces core to them, and if those bets do not pan out or, more likely, if they have material and significant strength in an area that does work out, they can monetize their portfolio with Intellectual Ventures and hedge their R&D and attendant patenting efforts, which delivers value for their shareholders.

Check out the full version of Cory’s interview at IPPro Patents.

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IV’s Favorite Inventions: The Babbage Machine

Visit the Intellectual Ventures Lab and you’ll find one of IV’s favorite inventions, the Difference Engine No. 2 or Babbage Machine. Consisting of 8,000 parts, weighing five tons and measuring 11 feet long, this particular invention is hard to miss. But its size isn’t the reason it has a home in the IV Lab foyer. The Difference Engine No. 2 is the earliest mechanical calculator and widely considered to be the world’s first computer

IV’s Favorite Inventions: The Babbage Machine

In our early history, scientists, engineers and navigators had to rely on human calculation to perform complex mathematical functions. Teams of mathematicians or “human calculators” were charged with creating error-free tables of equations and data. The problem was that human calculators were not perfect. Human calculation proved to be both an inefficient and imprecise method for tabulating data.

In 1822, the brilliant mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage had a vision that changed the game forever. Frustrated by human error, Babbage designed the Difference Engine to automate the process of calculating mathematical functions. The engine was designed to calculate numbers using the method of finite differences. The big advantage of this method is that it uses only addition and takes away the need for multiplication and division which are more difficult to implement mechanically. The process breaks down a complex task subject to human error into bite size chunks that can be programmed to eliminate nearly all mistakes in calculation.

Though Babbage was responsible for the design of the Difference Engine, it would be another 153 years until it was actually constructed. In 2002, the mechanical calculator was built faithfully to Babbage’s original drawings. And for that, we have our co-founder Nathan Myhrvold to thank. Myhrvold not only funded a portion of the London Science Museum’s output mechanism for a working Difference Engine No. 2, but is also the owner of a Difference Engine No. 2—making the mechanical calculator showcased in our foyer one of the only two in the world.  

It is difficult to imagine a world without Charles Babbage’s vision of the mechanical calculator. Without Babbage, would we be sending our kids to algebra class with human calculators this back to school season? Charles Babbage was capable of breaking down the complexities of our universe in to manageable parts. He is among a lineage of thinkers who revealed the computable nature of our world and serves as an inspiration for many of us at IV every time we walk through the IV Lab foyer and catch a glimpse of the Difference Engine No. 2.

For more of IV’s favorite inventions, check out our post on cipher machines and fire hoses

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Behind the Breakthrough: Manan Shukla on AI Shield

Last year, Behind the Breakthrough profiled Manan Shukla, an associate commercialization lead at Global Good who was born in a small village in India and raised and educated in the United States. Manan has traveled extensively in some of the most impoverished regions in the world, working with farmers to understand the problems they’re facing and what technologies could help. 

Behind the Breakthrough: Manan Shukla on AI Shield

Today, Manan shares an update about Global Good’s work on the Artificial Insemination Shield (AI Shield), challenges facing cattle and dairy farmers in the world’s poorest countries, and his hopes for the future. 

Why did Global Good prioritize developing artificial insemination technology for dairy and cattle farmers in the developing world?

Global Good focuses on problems in the world’s poorest countries that have potential for technological solutions. In 2014, our collaborator, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, identified that the growth of artificial insemination in low-income countries has been hampered by low conception rates. Since this problem fit squarely into Global Good’s mission – and because the ability to successfully breed cattle can have such a dramatic impact on farmers and families in the developing world – we started innovating technologies that could help address the problem.

What we came to realize was that the real issue was the ability for technicians to keep the semen cold. And in the artificial insemination world, there’s little room for error -  in many cases, 100% of sperm can die after one minute of exposure to the wrong temperatures. Even in a developed country like the United States, it’s estimated that handling issues, like the one I just described, account for a near 10 percent decrease in fertility. Of course, the problem is worse in the developing world—primarily because training is less rigorous—leading to devastating consequences for farmers and artificial insemination programs alike.

What we’ve developed in the AI Shield is a simple, proprietary cold chain solution that can reliably keep frozen bull semen at the proper temperature.

What’s next for AI Shield?

We’re really excited about Worthington Industries’ official launch of the AI Shield in Africa later this week at the African Dairy Conference in Kigali, Rwanda. At the conference, AI industry leaders will have the chance to learn about the technology and its benefits. Usually, the main buyers of AI equipment are governments who then provide them to AI technicians. It will be great to see the technology in the field in Africa impacting farmers’ lives.

We are also working with our newest licensing partner, the Cryogenics Business Group of Indian Oil Corporation, to make the technology available in South Asia for the first time. Later this year, Indian Oil, will be launching the product in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

We’re excited to see Worthington and Indian Oil expand their markets with our technology, and in so doing, make the AI Shield available worldwide.

What are your hopes for the future of this kind of technology?

Our goal with technologies like the AI Shield is to improve the conception rates of cattle in low-income countries. Ultimately, our hope is to improve the lives of smallholder farmers and their families, who depend on their livestock for nutrition and income. 

Follow our Behind the Breakthrough series by subscribing to our IV Insights blog, and check out more quotes from inventors and scientists on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages.  

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News You Can Use: Summer Olympics Edition

This month we’ve celebrated and showcased STEM in our communities, and appreciated outstanding displays of tenacity and teamwork – traits inventors often share – from Olympic athletes in Rio. Check out some of the links we are loving from August. 

News You Can Use: Summer Olympics Edition

IV in the News

Washington Global Health Alliance announced IV’s Global Good won ‘Outstanding Global Health Organization’ at the organization’s Pioneers of Global Health Awards.

Senior Vice President of Global Licensing Cory Van Arsdale sat down with IPPro Patents to discuss the role of licensing and collaboration in the global innovation ecosystem.

Nathan Myhrvold and the local community were thrilled to see a rare T. rex skull delivered to Seattle’s Burke Museum.

The Olympics

We hope you enjoyed the Olympics as much as we did! Did you realize that you watched the events courtesy of a number of new high-tech inventions?

As you’ve seen through our blog series Failing for Success, ideas take recurring trial and error to perfect. The Huffington Post highlights Olympians who have treated failure as an opportunity, not as the end of the road.

The New York Times profiles Olympic champion Katie Ledecky’s coach, Bruce Gemmell, an engineer and inventor who holds 11 patents.

Young Inventors

The Washington Post visits Camp Invention, a STEM-based camp encouraging kids to dream big and chase new ideas.


16-year-old South African Kiara Nirghin won Google’s Community Impact Award for creating an absorbent polymer that can be used to fight drought.

P.S.: You can thank former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson for inventing one of your favorite summer toys: the Super Soaker. 

Want more News You Can Use? Follow us on Twitter and get the good stuff in real time.

News You Can Use

Intellectual Ventures regularly shares roundups of invention and intellectual property news. To read the other posts in this series, see below:

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Must-See Invention Movies for the Dog Days of Summer

Courage in the face of adversity, tenacity when the goal seems impossible and an undying commitment to progress – break out the popcorn and take in the inspiration, because inventors’ stories make for fantastic movies. Read on for some of our favorite invention movies – and then kick back and watch their trailers. 

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything” depicts the remarkable life of one of the world’s most brilliant astrophysicists (and mentor to Nathan Myhrvold), Stephen Hawking.

The movie offers stunning detail on a life story that’s familiar to many – how Hawking, after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and given less than three years to live, defied the odds to make groundbreaking contributions that help the world understand the universe around us.

Throughout his life, Hawking has been a husband, a father, a best-selling author, a renowned mathematics professor, an astrophysicist and, of course, an inventor in his own right. He was the first to set forth a theory of cosmology explained by the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

His revolutionary ideas and inventive spirit continues to inspire scientists and inventors from all over the world.


The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game” follows the life of Alan Turing, an English mathematician, cryptanalyst and scientist recognized widely as the father of theoretical computer science.

But in cementing his legacy as an invention powerhouse, Turing secured another, perhaps more significant, accolade: war hero. Without his ingenuity, applied in spades to create the Turing machine, the Allied forces may never have cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code – a breakthrough in cipher technology.

The movie demonstrates the emotional and often tumultuous journey to develop breakthrough technology in a situation where failure would have had very real consequences for the future of the world.


Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin” tells the remarkable story of the world-renowned inventor, autism advocate and livestock handling expert.

After discovering that she had autism at an early age, Grandin invented the “hug machine”—a device used to calm individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The machine was initially inspired by Grandin’s realization that animals seem to relax in stressful situations when they’re “squeezed.” Grandin went on to significantly improve animal welfare by developing related livestock handling systems.

Perhaps most remarkable about Grandin, is the fact that she accomplished so much while battling her own autism diagnosis. Grandin, who was unable to speak until she was four-years-old, transformed her personal adversity into success as an inventor and advocate for autism and animal rights. She was one of the first individuals to publicly share her personal experiences with autism and was named a hero in Time Magazine’s Time 100 list in 2010.


For more real-life inspiration from scientists and inventors, check out our Behind the Breakthrough series.

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Inventing for Impact… Literally

The problem of head trauma in football is getting lots of attention – and for good reason. Stories of professional players’ suffering the effects of years of brain injury populate the news, and statistics show that even young players aren’t immune.

Inventing for Impact… Literally

While it’s still unclear whether helmet technology can ever prevent concussions, inventors are hard at work on new technologies that could make football safer. In the August issue of Inventors Digest, these inventions take center stage. Be sure to check out the full stories, available digitally here

What’s happening to the helmet?

Helmets are designed, in theory, to reduce brain injuries. But, as IPWatchdog’s Gene Quinn and Steve Brachmann write, current versions reliably protect against blunt impact but offer precious little protection against the conditions that lead to serious injury.

A cadre of inventors and start-up companies are working to develop new technologies that may be able to start mitigating head trauma in football. Their innovative ideas range from a helmet featuring self-recovering airbags, to a device that increases the amount of blood in the cranium so that the brain fits more tightly within the skull, to a two-layer helmet that rotates to help lessen impact from rapid twisting and torsion.

More details on these inventions and companies on pages 24-27 of the magazine.

Is the answer on the outside?

Many of the inventions described above address what’s inside of the modern helmet. But former NFL punter Zoltan Mesko and a team of innovators are putting a leaf-spring device, similar to what forms the suspension system on a wheeled vehicle, on the outside instead.

Reid Creager tells the story of how Mesko joined up with a fellow Michigan alum and six Harvard MBA, medical and law students to develop their new technology. Mesko and company’s go-to-market device is designed to help on the practice field first – where 76 percent of concussions occur as kids try to prove themselves.

Check out the full article on pages 20-23 of the August edition.

Interested in more stories like this one? Inventors Digest delivers useful, entertaining and cutting-edge information to help its readers succeed. Subscribe today. And stay tuned as we partner with Inventors Digest to spotlight these kinds of stories. 

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The Next Generation of STEM Superheroes: Meet Ayantu, Ray and Aisha

Superheroes venture into unexplored territory, overcome obstacles, and improve the world around them. At the Intellectual Ventures Lab, we think of ourselves in a similar way. Using our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) superpowers, we invent real-life gadgets that could save and improve the lives of millions of people across the planet. 

The Next Generation of STEM Superheroes: Meet Ayantu, Ray and Aisha

Future STEM heroes visit the Intellectual Ventures Lab.

We were excited to recently host a group of 60 STEM superheroes-in-training from across the Seattle area. These high school juniors are part of the University of Washington’s Math Science Upward Bound program and are exploring careers in the sciences and engineering. The students toured our electronics, optics, mechanical engineering and biotech labs, learning about some of the nifty gadgets we’re developing in our not-so-secret lair – technologies like Arktek, a super thermos that uses space technology to keep life-saving vaccines cool as they are transported to children in remote areas, and the Autoscope, an automated microscope that uses artificial intelligence to detect malaria in areas with few trained microscopists.

The students also had a chance to hear from Aidan, a summer intern who is helping to design a device to diagnose tuberculosis, and Amanda, a scientist who is developing a test to measure the bacterial contamination of milk, among others.

We caught up with a couple of these STEM superheroes to find out what their superpowers are and how they plan on deploying them to improve the world. Meet Ayantu, Ray and Aisha:

Ayantu, high school junior

STEM Superpower: Medical microbiology

Quest: Wipe out infectious disease.

“If I had a superpower, I would be trying to find a cure to diseases that are wiping out a wide population, like HIV. I’m interested in that because I’ve known people who have had diseases like that.”

Ray, high school junior

STEM Superpower: Asking questions!

Quest: Improving water quality

“It's ridiculous how some parts of the world don’t have the kind of quality we have that we take for granted. We have tap water that's 100 percent healthier than what you get in third world countries. I think that a lot more people should work on that problem.”

Aisha, high school junior

STEM Superpower: Research

Quest: Creating new dermatitis treatments

“I have eczema. I want to do research and find ways to get rid of it.”

Thank you, Upward Bound, for visiting us at the Lab. Though we are working hard to develop breakthrough technologies that can address global challenges, we know that we can’t tackle them alone. We need to inspire the next generation of STEM superheroes to join the fight, and continue to invest in an innovation ecosystem where ideas can thrive.

To stay up-to-date with the Lab, subscribe to our newsletter. Learn more about the next generation of STEM superheroes this summer on Facebook and Twitter.

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