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Uncovering NOAA’s inventors
Monica Allen

Uncovering NOAA’s inventors

NOAA steps up effort to move new ideas from lab to marketplace

It’s no surprise that an agency of scientists working to create better weather forecasts, manage ocean resources and monitor the environment would have a healthy share of inventors.

“Whenever we visit NOAA labs we find a new invention,” said Derek Parks, the acting deputy director of the NOAA Technology Partnerships Office.

NOAA’s Technology Partnerships Office has recently created a pilot to scout for more of these inventors and help them turn their ideas into commercial products that strengthen the U.S. Economy.

Innovation Managers have been designated from each of the seven NOAA Research labs to be on the lookout for new ideas and to bring them to the attention of NOAA’s Technology Partnerships Office. Here, Parks has a number of tools to help inventors. One of the workhorse tools is the cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA).

Measuring stream levels

Measuring stream levels

Crane Johnson, a hydrologist at NOAA's National Weather Service River Forecast Center in Alaska, has installed small, durable solar-powered stream gages like the one hanging from the railing in this photo to track water levels. The real-time data are helping improve flood forecasts. Credit: NOAA

Recent success with cooperative agreement

Crane Johnson, a hydrologist with NOAA’s National Weather Service River Forecast Office in Alaska, wanted more real-time data about water levels from the thousands of rivers and streams across Alaska to improve NOAA’s life-saving flood forecasts.

Johnson, an engineer, built a portable, durable, solar-powered stream gage that he could attach to bridges over rivers and streams. It captures data showing steam levels that is then transmitted by satellite to forecasters. Parks heard about the tool and suggested to Johnson that NOAA could help him seek a private company that might be interested in turning his invention into a commercial product.

This made sense to Johnson who soon realized he could not keep up with the demand for the tool from inside NOAA and was getting requests from outside NOAA to build stream gages. Parks reached out broadly to the business community. Very quickly, Johnson’s Igage caught the eye of David Schoenmaker, owner of Stillwater Technologies LLC, who is now working with Johnson through a CRADA to manufacture and market the sensor. “Without connecting through the NOAA Technology Partnerships Office, David and I would never have met,” said Johnson. “It’s really a win win for us.”

NOAA at BlueTech Week

As part of a larger effort to accelerate transitioning ideas from the lab to the marketplace, NOAA’s Technology Partnerships Office will feature a number of NOAA-created technologies at the upcoming BlueTech Week, an annual conference which brings together hundreds of ocean technology companies, federal agencies and researchers.

NOAA TPO will sponsor a booth called iNOAAvation Center to showcase 12 emerging technologies created by NOAA scientists as well as five private companies that have benefited from NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program to develop new commercial technologies.

Testing water for coral health

Testing water for coral health

Subsurface autosamplers near Cheeca Rocks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary stand ready to sample water chemistry that impacts the coral's ability to grow, provide habitat for fish and lobster, and coastal protection. Credit: NOAA

NOAA inventions on display include a subsurface automated sampler developed by Ian Enochs of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab and Nathan Formel, of NOAA’s cooperative institute at the University of Miami. This low-cost, open source subsurface autosampler eliminates barriers to water sampling and increases research capacity for oceanographers. 

Some of the private companies that will display their technologies include Metron Scientific Solutions which is developing a smartphone app called Red Sky for marine weather that crowd sources weather data, and Tridentis AMV, a company that has developed an autonomous advanced coastal monitor to assess the health of coral down to 150 meters.

“With the ocean economy growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, it’s a great time for NOAA  inventors and small businesses to develop ocean technology,” said Parks. “We’re looking forward to helping more NOAA inventors and small businesses turn their ideas into commercial products.”

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, Director of Public Affairs for NOAA Research, at monica.allen@noaa.gov

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