Better than Flubber?

Jan. 26, 1998

A U.S. patent recently awarded to Dr. Charles Garner, associate professor of chemistry, may have commercial value in items such as transparent candles and deodorants. Garner earned the patent for an "organic gelling agent" ¡¡ an organic compound with the unusual ability to convert organic solvents into transparent gels.

Roughly three dozen companies have expressed interest in this new gelling agent, and Garner said he has provided half of them with samples for testing. "It's a fascinating material," he said. "We're hopeful it will have some commercial applications."

Following a brief report in a nationally circulated chemistry news magazine, a wide variety of companies expressed interest in the material. Possible applications range from cosmetics and other personal care uses to protective barriers for telephone cables and lubricants for use in space travel.

Daniel Hodgins, shareholder in Arnold, White and Durkee of Austin and patent law specialist for Baylor, said 25 percent of all patented items make enough money to recover the cost of obtaining the patent. He said 1 to 5 percent of patents make a significant amount of money, while 1 percent makes more than $1 million.

"The methods of gelling organic solvents are few and far between," Hodgins said. "This one looks more commercially viable than most. It strikes me as something that could be important to the perfume industry."

Jyoti Jain, a former graduate student at Baylor, inadvertently made the discovery of the chemical compound when a clear gel formed while conducting experiments for Dr. Garner in 1994. With the help of several undergraduates, Dr. Garner developed the initial observation into a patentable invention.

Though other organic gelling agents exist, Dr. Garner said the transparency of his gel and the simplicity of its production make it unique.

"There are relatively few materials with this behavior," Dr. Garner said, "and most of them are more difficult to make." Studies of the large¡scale preparation and purification of the material are under way.

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