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UW-Stevens Point Professor Receives Patent Approval For New Technology

Stevens Point, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will receive the second patent in the university’s history. The WiSys Technology Foundation, an organization that manages intellectual property apart from UW-Madison, has received notice from the U.S. Patent and Trade Office that a patent will soon be issued for a UW-Stevens Point’s (UWSP) associate professor’s invention.

Bryant Browne, an associate professor of soils in UWSP’s College of Natural Resources, has developed a new technology for a highly efficient device for sampling multiple dissolved gases in surface and groundwater. The monitoring of water quality and remediation are just some of the potential applications.

UWSP’s patent reinforces what we already know – that there is innovative, patentable research taking place at campuses throughout the UW System,” says WiSys general manager Beth Donley. Now that we have UWSP’s patent, our shop’s responsibility is to successfully and aggressively market this new invention.”

Issues of groundwater quality and remediation are of particular concern in Wisconsin, where roughly two-thirds of the population uses groundwater as a drinking water supply.

According to Browne, the essence of this process is extracting natural and man-made gases out of any existing body of water using a simple pumping process. Unlike existing approaches to measuring gases in surface and groundwater, which typically require different extraction methods depending on the gas, Browne’s device collects multiple gases at once. Browne has used the device to quantify emissions of global warming gases when agricultural pollutants in ground water enter streams; to study natural processes in sediments and wetlands that convert nitrate pollution to harmless nitrogen gas; and to chart the historical degradation of ground water quality over the last 60 years.
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“The ability to easily and rapidly collect a large volume of dissolved gas in one sample is unprecedented,” said Browne. “This technology affords several advantages for environmental research applications, including affixing the date of origin for ground water itself. That’s exciting because you’d be able to construct the history of ground water quality and learn more from past mistakes.”

For example, says Browne, rainfall and snowmelt in the 1940’s and 1950’s contained very small amounts of dissolved chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases. But today they have large quantities of CFC. CFCs were one of the first gases targeted as a potential source for global warming.

According to Browne, the historical atmospheric buildup of these industrial gases is mirrored quite well in ground water. This device makes it much simpler for scientists to link ‘CFC age’ and water quality, allowing easier tracking of historical changes in groundwater quality.

WiSys filed a patent application on Browne’s invention in May 2002 and is in the process of contacting companies who may be interested in licensing it.

Browne joined the faculty in 1998 and is a teacher of water chemistry and soil physics, holds undergraduate degrees from Boston College and the University of Massachusetts, a master’s degree from the University of California-Berkeley and a doctorate from Syracuse University.

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