150 Thayer Gifts to the World: Part One

In the past 150 years, the faculty, staff, and alumni have had a major global impact.

Read the full story, published by Dartmouth Engineer Magazine.

In this first of two stories about inventions, innovations, books, and companies discovered or created by Thayer School of Engineering faculty, students, and alumni, find out what days of the week you can expect the fewest delays at the airport, who made the discovery that allows you to take selfies with your phone camera, how masses of micro-plastic become trapped in the Arctic’s sea ice, and many other extraordinary discoveries to come out of the engineering school in the past century and a half.

  • Professor Tillman Gerngross achieved a biomedical feat that most experts said couldn’t be done: engineering yeast to produce fully human proteins. The ability to humanize the sugar structures—or glycosylation—of the yeast Pichia pastoris not only increases the capacity to produce therapeutic proteins, but also allows for precise control of protein structures, making drug production far more efficacious.
  • Assistant Professor of Engineering Rachel Obbard and her colleagues discovered that ocean currents had carried micro-plastics—defined as polymer particles under 5 millimeters long—all the way to the Arctic, where they became trapped in sea ice. Her research, published in a 2014 paper titled “Global Warming Releases Microplastic Legacy Frozen in Arctic Sea Ice,” reported that plastic particles exist in the ice at higher concentrations than previously thought. 
  • The nation’s first surgical facility dedicated to translational research, the Center for Surgical Innovation (CSI), located at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, features two operating rooms that share MRI and CT scanners for intraoperative imaging and have space for multiple researchers and equipment. Keith Paulsen, Thayer ’84 and ’86, Thayer’s Robert A. Pritzker Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Sohail Mirza, chair of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Department of Orthopaedics, codirect the CSI.
  • Professor Vikrant Vaze studies the causes of flight delays, analyzing a complicated network in which even minor delays can cause a ripple effect of missed connections and further delays. Among his finding: Mondays and Saturdays have the fewest delays. June is the worst month for delays.
  • Professor Eric Fossum invented the revolutionary complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) active pixel image sensor that is in virtually every digital image system from cell phones to movie cameras—while working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory long before he joined the Thayer faculty. Dubbed the “Father of the Selfie,” Fossum has been honored with the world’s largest engineering award, the Queen Elizabeth Prize. But he isn’t resting on those mighty laurels. He is working on the next generation of image sensors: the Quanta Image Sensor, which is poised to revolutionize imaging in extreme low-light conditions.