Invent Penn State names James Adair 'Inventor of the Year'

April 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — James Adair, professor of materials science and engineering, biomedical engineering and pharmacology, was awarded the Invent Penn State "Inventor of the Year" award, Friday, April 20, at the Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference awards ceremony.

In May 2017, Adair also received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Both awards recognize the impact he’s made over the course of his 20-year career at the University and, in particular, for being one of the institution’s most prolific inventor-researchers and an inexhaustible collaborator.

Adair was early to recognize the possible use of nanotechnology in medical imaging. This led him and his research team to work closely with Mark Kester, then-professor of pharmacology at Hershey Cancer Institute, to explore nanoparticles for encapsulating and delivering chemotherapeutics to cancer cells. The results were promising: highly-targeted delivery of drugs to cancerous cells without affecting nearby healthy cells.

Research from Adair has led to $5.1 million in grants for cancer research including a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Since 1982 he’s filed 23 invention disclosures for which he has been awarded 17 U.S. patents and eight foreign patents. There are four more U.S. patent applications pending at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with complementary filing of the Patent Treaty Organization for foreign patent filings. Adair holds five licensing agreements with Penn State, with more in negotiation, aimed to move the science into technological application for improved diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Adair and his collaborators, Jeff Davidson and Mark Kester, who helped co-found Keystone Nano in 2005 to accelerate the development of their discoveries into the medical field, continue to drive the commercialization of the nonmedical formulations. In 2017, his team began a Phase I clinical trial to assess Ceramide Nano Liposome in the treatment of solid tumors.

“Notably, in every success, Jim gives credit to others, which is a mark of a true leader,” said Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey during the award presentation. “In fact, our patent office repeatedly tries to persuade him not to list so many people on his patent filings.” Sharkey went on to describe how recently, during an exercise to map interdisciplinary research collaborations at the University, the map showed a quite large collaborative “node” with nearly every researcher connecting to it. The node was Jim Adair.

The physical award presented to Adair also was the result of a collaboration. Dubbed “The Mother of Invention,” the artisan-made honorarium was manufactured using a disruptive, new technology, 3-D metal printing. To produce the award, Invent Penn State sponsored a Learning Factory project, which harnessed senior engineering students’ skills. The students received mentorship and support from Penn State’s CIMP-3D lab run by the Applied Research Laboratory; an industry partner, 3D Systems, who is embedded at the lab; a local design firm Rowland Creative; and a local start-up, XACT Metal. The collaborators helped to coach the students through various phases of product development: visual and structural design; materials specification; 3-D printed prototyping; and the final manufacturing and finishing process. The result is an abstract female form holding the Invent Penn State "spark of creativity."

“The Mother of Invention award demonstrates the value of collaboration, which has been the cornerstone of Dr. Adair’s life’s work,” said Sharkey. “Moreover, the award is symbolic of a key purpose of Invent Penn State — to leverage Penn State research capabilities to enhance students’ career success.”

For more information about Invent Penn State, visit To learn about other startups and intellectual property developed by researchers at Penn State, visit and

  • The Mother of Invention

    The Mother of Invention

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Dr. James Adair receiving the 2018 Invent Penn State Inventor of the Year Award

    James Adair speaks at the 2018 Venture and IP Conference after receiving the 2018 Invent Penn State "Inventor of the Year" Award, on April 20.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated April 26, 2018