Epic Engineering Exploits

By Brigitte Espinet | Published February 14, 2018

Thinking about engineering? Think Georgia Tech, of course. There are scores of reasons why America’s No. 7 public university always figures into the top recommendations for engineering schools — and why our College of Engineering's undergraduate program ranks fourth in 2018 America's Best Colleges edition of U.S. News & World Report. This Engineers Week, scroll down for just a few examples of those reasons — inventions and technological advances Georgia Tech researchers and alumni helped engineer that are making a big difference in our world.  

Closeup of microneedle patch

Microneedle Patch


The June 2017 The Lancet medical journal published the results of a study conducted by Emory University and Georgia Tech researchers highlighting the success of flu vaccination microneedle patches in the first human clinical trial. “These results provide evidence that the microneedle patch vaccination is an innovative new approach with the potential to improve current vaccination coverage and reduce immunization costs,” the study’s authors summarized. “One of the main goals of developing the microneedle patch technology was to make vaccines accessible to more people,” said senior co-author and Regents Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Mark Prausnitz. “With the microneedle patch, you could pick it up at the store and take it home, put it on your skin for a few minutes, peel it off and dispose of it safely, because the microneedles have dissolved away.”

Closeup of a blue synthetic sponge held in a yellow-gloved hand

O-Cel-O Sponge


In 1946, the late Gerard "Red" Murray, a 1939 chemical engineering graduate, developed the famous household sponge O-Cel-O, which was named after the chemical formula for the sponge: oxygen-cellulose-oxygen. The patent was sold a few years later to General Mills, which then sold it to 3M.

A photorealistic rendering of the Prox-1 satellite in space with

Prox-1 Satellite


In May 2017, the first Georgia Tech-built satellite was accepted for space launch. More than 400 aerospace engineering students and faculty were involved in planning, designing, and testing Prox-1. The 154-pound metal box is scheduled to lift off aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy from Cape Canaveral this summer, following the successful inaugural launch of the rocket on Feb. 6. The purpose of Prox-1 is, once in orbit, to deploy another nanosatellite, LightSail 2, which was designed by The Planetary Society to test the propulsive efficacy of a 32-square-meter solar sail.

Vintage photo of Lexicon - small device with LED screen to show translations

Lexicon Language Translator

The world’s first hand-held, language-conversion computer was introduced by electrical engineering alumnus Michael Levy in the late 1970s. Unveiled by Lexicon in 1978, it could translate English reciprocally into 13 languages. Levy graduated from Georgia Tech in 1969.

Portrait of Russell Dupuis

Modern Electronics


Though the smartphone, LED lightbulb, and Blu-ray player all serve vastly different purposes, they do have something in common: Russell Dupuis. A professor in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech, Dupuis is the Steve W. Chaddick Endowed Chair in Electro-Optics and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar who is credited with developing the process known as metalorganic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) in the 1970s. MOCVD is responsible for introducing a new breed of mass-produced compound semiconductors that emit light with exceptional efficiency, and are key to the manufacturing of everything from hand-held laser pointers to stadium jumbotrons. Today, MOCVD remains the most widely used technology for creating thin-film compound semiconductors for modern electronics.

A can of WD-40

WD-40 Solvent


The late Reginald S. Fleet, a 1916 Georgia Tech mechanical engineering graduate, was one of seven founders of the Rocket Chemical Company in San Diego, California. The company, which was incorporated in 1953, changed its name in 1970 to WD-40 Co. to reflect its sole product — a solvent and lubricant first created for aerospace applications.

A picture of the SIDS monitor

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Monitor


Parker H. “Pete” Petit, who graduated from Tech with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1962 and earned his master’s degree in engineering mechanics in 1964, engineered the world’s first at-home monitor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). His invention was prompted by the death of his six-month-old son who died from SIDS in 1970. In 1971, he quit his job as a project manager at Lockheed-Georgia Co. and established Healthdyne where he developed this physiological monitoring device that is used worldwide in the management of SIDS. Petit has been inducted into the Georgia State Business School Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Engineering.

A microphone and film reels sitting in front of a sound mixing board

Stereophonic Recording


The late communications pioneer Hazard E. Reeves invented a system to synchronize sound recordings directly onto film in 1937. In 1946, he became a founder of Cinerama and developed the stereophonic sound system for the wraparound screen invention. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Tech in 1928.

Vintage photo of a woman combing curly hair

Cold Permanent Waving

In the 1930s, electrical engineering graduate Arnold F. Willat invented a cold permanent waving solution, and, in 1981, was inducted into the Cosmetology Hall of Fame. Willat, who also invented a telephone cord coder, lived to the age of 102, dying in 1988. He graduated from Tech in 1907.

Gif of pump jack operating

Mark II Oilfield Pump


The beam-type oilfield pumping machine that has become the industry standard was designed by Georgia Tech 1938 general engineering graduate Joseph P. Byrd in the 1950s. The Mark II oilfield pump is known as the grasshopper and was selected for permanent exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial celebration. Byrd died in 2010 at 94.

A satellite image of a hurricane

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale


School of Civil and Environmental Engineering alumnus Herbert Saffir is half of the reason we can attach labels to hurricanes. He and Robert Simpson, former director of the National Hurricane Center, are the names behind the official title: the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. The five-category system correlates a storm’s wind speeds with the kind of damage those winds will inflict on structures.

In addition to developing the hurricane scale in the late 1960s, Saffir, who graduated from Tech in 1940, also widely receives credit for writing and unifying building codes across South Florida, where he was a county engineer for many years. The work made him an expert in how hurricane-force winds damage structures. He died in 2007 at the age of 90.

Connector plates holding roof beams together

Gang-Nail Connector Plate

In 1955, J. Calvin Jureit transformed the homebuilding industry with the Gang-Nail, a connector plate made of galvanized steel with nail-like prongs to hold together two adjoining pieces of wood in a roof truss. Jureit graduated from Tech in 1949 with a degree in civil engineering. He died in 2005.

A hand holding an iPad showing the FalconView software



In 1994, the Georgia Tech Research Institute developed the FalconView Mapping Program for the U.S. Air National Guard to help military pilots with flight planning. It provides pilots with maps that help them anticipate what they will find as they carry out a mission. In addition to topographical information, the maps include obstacles, enemy positions, and other rapidly changing information. Today, it’s used by an estimated 80,000 people in the U.S. military, federal agencies, and allied countries for a wide variety of intelligence, planning, and operational tasks. Mobile and 3-D versions were upgrades introduced in 2014, FalconView’s 20th anniversary.

Want to create the next epic invention? Visit the College of Engineering at coe.gatech.edu.


Contributing Editor: Doug Goodwin
Digital Design: Erica Endicott
Microneedles: Christopher Moore
Prox-1: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society
WD-40: Allison Carter
SIDS Monitor: Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering & Bioscience
Oilfield pump: Wikimedia Commons
Hurricane: NOAA
FalconView: Rob Felt