Yale’s hockey triumph

Inventions: an exchange

Our May/June feature article on innovations from Yale engineering, “Inventions That Will Help Save the World (If We Let Them),” prompted a letter from an alumnus disputing how we presented the discovery of a new desalination process in which he had been involved. We asked his professor to read and respond to the letter; their letters and our response follow.

I am writing to correct a recent article, “Inventions That Will Help Save the World (If We Let Them),” in which Professor Menachem Elimelech is profiled as an inventor of the NH3/CO2 forward osmosis desalination process. This is simply not true.

I am the sole inventor of this process, which is currently being commercialized by Oasys Water (a start-up company I cofounded with an investor in 2008). I invented the process during independent work both before and during my undergraduate studies. While Professor Elimelech later became my PhD advisor, he made no inventive contributions to the process.

The inventor profile of Professor Elimelech should be retracted in full. To let it stand would be to compromise Yale’s reputation as a place where students may feel safe to innovate without fear that others will be allowed to claim credit for their work.

Rob McGinnis ’02, ’09PhD
Coventry, CT

I am writing in response to Robert McGinnis’s letter regarding the article “Inventions That Will Help Save the World.” McGinnis solely invented the NH3/CO2 draw solution for the forward osmosis process prior to his graduate studies, while working as an undergraduate student in my lab. However, he was not an inventor of the forward osmosis process, which has been known for over 30 years.

The draw solution invented by McGinnis comprises a mixture of ammonium bicarbonate and ammonium hydroxide and represents an extension of prior draw solutions, namely ammonium bicarbonate (Neff, 1964, US Pat. 3,130,156) and ammonium carbonate (W. B. Murray, Water and Sewage Works, November 1968, page 525).

I was the principal investigator of a $756,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop and demonstrate the NH3/CO2 forward osmosis process at the laboratory and a small pilot. Robert McGinnis and Jeffrey McCutcheon worked on the project in my lab and completed their PhD dissertations on this topic. I was also coinventor of several patents related to the process. Successful data and publications from this project were instrumental in the formation of a Yale spinoff company, Oasys Water, with Yale, McGinnis, and myself as cofounders.

Menachem Elimelech
New Haven, CT

We stand by our depiction of Menachem Elimelech as playing a leading role in codeveloping the Oasys system. However, we regret that our article portrayed Rob McGinnis and Elimelech as coinventors of the NH3/CO2 draw solution, and that we did not credit McGinnis with his two patents pertaining to the desalination process; with bringing the project to Elimelech’s lab as an undergraduate; or with cofounding Oasys along with Yale and Elimelech. We note that, before publication, Professor Elimelech confirmed the facts as they were stated in the article.—Eds.

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