College of Engineering News Room
National Academy of Inventors Selects Five USF Faculty as Senior Members
The National Academy of Inventors selected a new class of senior members last week, consisting of 54 academic inventors from across the country. Five of those inventors are USF faculty members, and two of them — professors Robert Frisina, Ph.D., and Sylvia Thomas, Ph.D. — are College of Engineering faculty members. All academy senior members have a proven history of licensing and commercialization and have invented technologies with a wide impact on society.
A professor in the department of electrical engineering, Thomas conducts research and teaches, advises and mentors electrical engineer students and students in the Advanced Materials Bio and Integration Research laboratory. She has more than 30 years of professional experience and fostered collaborations and engineering education efforts in Italy, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Singapore, Mexico, and South Africa.
Thomas’ work focuses on developing low-cost, low-power miniaturized electronic circuitry and advanced materials for a variety of applications including sustainable energy systems, Internet of Things devices, water and healthcare systems. She holds 8 patents in these fields and has received $3 million in research funding, including National Science Foundation and Helios STEM grants. Her research has had a significant impact on the improvement of medical device designs and the development of biomembranes to address clean water and regenerative disease issues globally.
Some of Thomas’ past research projects include using the natural properties of cactus biomembranes for water filtration, skin grafting and wound healing and the development of an implantable biosensor for monitoring glucose levels in diabetic patients.
Thomas is also an academic leader in promoting diversity in engineering and STEM and is an award-winning, nationally-recognized mentor for students who are underrepresented in engineering fields. She has been the faculty advisor for USF chapters of the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and each maintain memberships of more than 100 students each year. She has also been co-director of three NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates sites that have trained more than 40 students.
Her participation in national programs promoting the success of students underrepresented in engineering include the FGLSAMP Bridge to the Doctorate, Alfred P. Sloan Minority Ph.D., National GEM, Department of Education GAANN and FEF McKnight fellowship programs, through which she has directly impacted more than 120 undergrad and grad students. Thomas’ outreach extends through public speeches at national and international conferences as well, and she has been a keynote speaker for the IEEE, National Science Foundation, the American Society of Engineering Education and the United Nations.
The founding and interim chair of the newly established medical engineering department at USF — a collaboration between the College of Engineering and the Morsani College of Medicine — Robert Frisina, Ph.D., is a world leader in sensory neuro-engineering and has spent more than 35 years working to combat acquired hearing loss. He heads a multidisciplinary team of researchers, engineers and clinicians as the director of the Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research at USF.
Frisina’s work includes a collection of breakthroughs in age-related hearing loss research, and he currently leads the world’s longest-running National Institutes of Health study in the field. The 25 consecutive year study has uncovered key molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing loss, paving the way for a new generation of research.
Frisina also leads research funded by two other NIH grants related to micropump drug delivery and acquired hearing loss. He holds three patents in his field, two of which have all been commercialized. Other notable hearing loss research breakthroughs include identifying specific genes connected to age-linked hearing loss, how an aging brain affects hearing health and the correlation between hormone replacement therapy and hearing loss in women.
Frisina has pioneered a new type of hearing aid that allows for personalized treatment according to each patient’s level of hearing loss — a part of the revolution of the prescription digital hearing aid industry. He and his team are currently developing improved therapeutic interventions for deafness and age-related hearing balance problems.
Frisina serves as a mentor for numerous undergrad, grad and medical students, Fulbright scholars, research fellows and medical residents. He provides real-world research opportunities for his students through participation in his team’s NIH projects, and he encourages students to pursue their own initiated research interests. Many trainees become first authors on peer-reviewed publications in noteworthy journals. Frisina himself is on the editorial board of several journals and has authored or co-authored over 170 publications that have been presented in more than 50 conferences around the world.
Frisina’s mentorship opportunities also include research advising for underprivileged high school students who would have otherwise not had firsthand research experiences, and a number of these students are currently pursuing pre-med undergrad degrees at Ivy League schools.