Every day, faculty at The University of New Mexico work to uncover the next technological frontier and expand our knowledge about the world. The research conducted at UNM has led to the creation of brand-new inventions that have been licensed by companies for use around the world.

In this article, five UNM inventions are highlighted that could help change the world. UNM Rainforest Innovations (UNMRI), the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed and owned entirely by The University of New Mexico Board of Regents is dedicated to protecting and commercializing technology developed by The University. They’ve selected the following inventions as a brief sample of UNM’s diverse and extensive collection of patents.

The following patents were created by prolific inventors at UNM and have since been licensed by companies in and outside of New Mexico, often as part of large portfolios of related patents. Many of the patents listed were created by UNMRI’s Rainforest Innovation Fellows, inventors who have been awarded and honored for the significant commercialization of their work.

1. Powering electric vehicles with a new energy source

Patent: Non-PGM cathode catalysts for fuel cell application derived from heat treated heteroatomic amines precursors


Inventors: Alexey Serov, Barr Halevi, Kateryna Artyushkova, Plamen B. Atanassov and Ulises A. Martinez. Atanassov was named a Rainforest Innovation Fellow in 2014 and holds 48 patented designs. He previously worked as a research professor in the UNM Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He is now a chancellor’s professor in the University of California-Irvine Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

As the world looks to lower carbon emissions and go green, exploring new ways to power our cars is more important than ever. While most electric vehicles in the United States are powered with electric batteries, fuel cells could offer another energy alternative. 

This patent, published in 2016, involves a new type of fuel cell that could provide an alternative power source to gas or electric batteries. Most electric vehicles in the United States are currently powered by batteries charged with electricity, but fuel cells create their own electricity through the use of hydrogen. Vehicles powered by fuel cells don’t produce the harmful emissions that gas-powered cars do, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This patent has been licensed by Albuquerque-based company Pajarito Powder for the development of non-platinum-based fuel cell catalysts. While other fuel cells utilize precious metals, which can make manufacturing cost-prohibitive, this patent uses non-precious group metals like nickel, cobalt and iron. Technology utilizing the patent is currently being sold to automotive manufacturers for use in electric vehicles in Japan.

2. Improving efficiency and accuracy in pathology

Patent: Flow cytometry for high throughput screening

Flow cytometry

Inventors: Larry A. Sklar, Bruce S. Edwards, Frederick W. Kuckuck. Lead inventor Sklar is a distinguished professor emeritus in the UNM School of Medicine Department of Pathology. Sklar is also one of just two inventors to receive the UNM Rainforest Innovations’ Lifetime Achievement Innovation Award for his development and extensive research of new flow cytometry technologies and was named a Rainforest Innovation Fellow in 2011. He has 48 U.S. patents.

Flow cytometry is used frequently in research, clinical trials and medical settings to understand cell characteristics, identify biomarkers, diagnose leukemia and understand the effects of drugs on human cells. This invention led by Sklar has helped the process become faster and more automated.

Published in 2005, this patent allows pathologists and researchers to screen multiple cell samples at once and measure them simultaneously. The technology can be used to help diagnose cancers and other conditions through its fast and effective detection of biomarkers, as well as test samples for drug discovery and other research. The patent also allows for automation in the delivery and retrieval of sample plates, reducing the risk of errors presented by manual handling. In 2006, the startup IntelliCyt Corporation was formed to commercialize Sklar’s flow cytometry inventions, including this patent. Albuquerque-based IntelliCyt was acquired by Sartorius, a large German biotech company, for $90 million in 2016. The company maintains an office in Albuquerque.

3. Finding new treatments for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases

Patent: Modulators of GTPases and their use

Cancer Diagnosis

Inventors: Angela Wandinger-Ness, Laurie Hudson, Larry Sklar, Zurab Surviladze, Tudor Oprea. Lead inventor Dr. Wandinger-Ness is a distinguished professor in the UNM School of Medicine Department of Pathology and was named a Rainforest Innovation Fellow in 2019. She has 10 U.S. patents.

Scientists around the world have devoted their lives to finding new and better treatments for cancer. While different types of cancer have various causes, researchers have known for a while that abnormal enzyme expression can cause ovarian, testicular and other cancers, as well as neurodegenerative diseases. Still, finding ways to address the specific enzyme directly has been a challenge. This invention could change things.

Published in 2021, this patent offers a method to treat ovarian, breast, head and neck, testicular, and prostate cancers, as well as diseases like Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. Abnormal expression of very specific enzymes in the body, known as the Rho family of GTPases, contributes to the development and progression of certain diseases. This invention presents a new composition for a pharmaceutical that can be used to target, modulate and inhibit the enzymes and proteins that ultimately lead to the development and metastasis of certain cancers. The invention has been licensed by biotech companies, most recently Emerald Biotherapeutics, seeking to develop cures for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Commercial licensing is often a key step for medical technologies in their journey toward clinical trials and eventual FDA approval.

4. Maintaining the integrity of wells and reducing emissions in oil and natural gas drilling

Patent: Engineered nano-modified methyl methacrylate polymer for repair of 30 microM microcracks

Oil Rig

Inventors: Mahmoud Reda Taha, Michael S. Stenko, John Stormont, Edward N. Matteo, Moneeb Genedy, Thomas Dewers. Lead inventor Mahmoud Reda Taha is a distinguished professor and regents lecturer in the UNM Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and was named a Rainforest Innovation Fellow in 2024. He has 12 U.S. patents.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion killed numerous oil rig workers and led to the largest marine oil spill in history. The incident serves as just one example of why maintaining the integrity of wells and drilling equipment is key to drilling that keeps workers and the environment safe.

Published in 2020, this patent is a method to manufacture and the formulation of a special composite sealant for microcracks in wellbores, or the drilled holes used for pumping water, natural gas and oil. Its ability to detect and seal even the smallest of cracks in wells helps to prevent oil spills and leakage as well as works to entirely eliminate the methane leakage from abandoned oil wells. The nanomodified methyl methacrylate polymer sealant can fill cracks as small as 30 micrometers, much smaller than other sealants on the market and worlds ahead of the industry standard of microfine cement. Taha started his own Albuquerque-based company, TS-Nano, to license the technology. TS-Nano sells sealants and sensing technology to reduce methane emissions from natural gas and oil wells and prevent leakage. The company is already profitable and has worked with Chevron, ConocoPhillips Canada, Petronas and more. TS-Nano now has facilities in Albuquerque, Hobbs and Calgary, Alberta.

5. Protecting devices and systems from hackers

Patent: System and methods for generating unclonable security keys in integrated circuits


Inventors: James Plusquellic, Dhruva J. Acharyya, Ryan L. Helinski. Lead inventor Plusquellic is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and President and CEO of IC-Safety, a hardware security company. He has 16 U.S. patents.

How many devices have you used today? Our cell phones, computers, smart devices, power systems, and other digital devices all contain private data. Data breaches and hackers have shown just how important safety protocols are in protecting not only our private information but also the systems that keep our society running and protect us.

Published in 2012, this patent can protect the devices we use every day. Computers, cell phones, and electronic devices utilize integrated circuit technology. The patent describes an innovative and world-class system and protocol that generates a specific Physical Unclonable Function offering an extremely high level of encryption to help secure data. The world has drastically shifted and in a time of mobile banking, the Physical Unclonable Function technology (PUF) helps keep financial organizations a step ahead in security. Plusquellic founded the company IC-Safety to license and commercialize his innovations.

Learn more about UNM patents and inventors on the Rainforest Innovations website

Header image: A researcher at TS-Nano observes and works with a sample of the polymer developed by Dr. Taha.