Category Archives: Newsmakers

Mentors help inventors make the leap to entrepreneur

Patrick Heaney, founder of NCD Technologies, uses a pyrometer to check temperatures inside of the vacuum chamber in the company’s lab at UW’s Research Park on Madison’s west side. The company is part of the UW MERLIN Mentors program. Photo by Bryce Richter.

It’s a story that could become a company’s founding narrative. The two Steves built their first Apple computer in the garage. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to start a software company. And 4-year-old Patrick Heaney broke a plastic sword while play-fighting — and recognized that materials can always stand improvement.

Eventually, that could become the founding narrative of NCD Technologies LLC, a Madison startup that is developing a super-hard diamond coating for industrial cutting tools.

The technique was invented in the UW-Madison lab of mechanical engineering Associate Professor Frank Pfefferkorn, where Heaney received his Ph.D. in 2009. But when NCD finally makes a profit, some of the credit will be due to a high-tech, high-touch UW mentoring program called MERLIN Mentors.

Despite the name, MERLIN (Madison Entrepreneur Resource, Learning and Innovation Network) specializes in advice rather than magic. “We want to get skills in entrepreneurship to people interested in creating companies,” says Terry Sivesind, MERLIN’s director.

Read the full story here.

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NCD Technologies Nabs an ‘Innovation Oscar’ from R&D Magazine


NCD Technologies, a UW-Madison College of Engineering start-up company launched by 2009 materials science PhD graduate Patrick Heaney, has been selected to R&D Magazine’s 100 List for technological excellence. NCD Technologies’ coatings are the result of a state-of-the-art pretreatment process for applying diamond coatings to extremely small tooling. This advanced process adds precision, longevity and efficiency to the tools and the machining operations they support. NCD is currently partnering with Janesville company Performance Microtools to further product development.

The R&D 100 Awards recognize excellence across a wide range of industries, including telecommunications, optics, high-energy physics, materials science, chemistry and biotechnology. Some winners are established Fortune 500 companies and others are federally funded research institutions.

See the full list of winners.

Patrick Heaney developed NCD Technologies in 2009 directly from his PhD work in the UW-Madison Department of Materials Science.

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At Exelon, Hanson to oversee nation’s largest nuclear fleet

Bryan Hanson

Exelon Generation has named alumnus Bryan Hanson (BSNEEP ’88) chief operating officer and senior vice president of its nuclear fleet. Exelon is the largest operator of nuclear power facilities in the United States.

In his new role, Hanson will oversee the daily operation for all 10 of Exelon’s nuclear facilities. Exelon operates the largest nuclear fleet in the United States and the third largest in the world.

“Bryan has demonstrated outstanding leadership of Exelon’s Midwest nuclear plants, ensuring all plant personnel maintain a steadfast focus on the safe operation of those facilities,” says Exelon Nuclear President and Chief Nuclear Officer Mike Pacilio. “His technical knowledge of our nuclear plants, coupled with his ambition and relentless pursuit of excellence are what will help drive our organization to be the best operator of nuclear plants in the world.”

Hanson, who has been with the company his entire career, has held various managerial positions within both Exelon’s Midwest and Mid-Atlantic operations, which include Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Prior to his newly named position, he was the senior vice president of operations for Exelon Generation’s six Midwest nuclear facilities and 11 reactors. (Read more about this role in the Badger Engineers profile of Hanson in February 2013.)

During his tenure with Exelon, Hanson also has served as the site vice president for Exelon’s Braidwood Generating Station and the site vice president for Clinton Power Station. In both these roles, he was responsible for all plant operations. He also has been vice president of nuclear oversight, Limerick Generating Station plant manager, and director of operations and work control.

Hanson also holds an MBA from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, is a graduate of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations Senior Nuclear Plant Management Program and the Exelon Leadership Institute at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

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With Wisconsin engineer at the helm, San Diego company earns NASA award

Mary Baker

Mary Baker (BSEM '66)

ATA Engineering Inc., of San Diego, is one of two companies to receive the George M. Low Award, the premier NASA honor for quality and performance. ATA, whose president is Mary Baker (BSEM ’66),  supported development of the Mars Science Laboratory and its robotic rover, Curiosity, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

With 93 employees, this small business played a key role in the mission by conducting detailed mechanical simulation work to support spacecraft’s challenging entry, descent and landing at Mars in August 2012.

Evaluators cited ATA’s problem-solving ability, demonstrated with the design of Curiosity’s sampling scoop; its emphasis on contracting with small business and hiring young talent with high potential; and its strong culture of teamwork.

URS Federal Technical Services Inc. of Germantown, Maryland, earned the Low award in the large business award category.

The Low award demonstrates NASA’s commitment to promoting excellence and continual improvement by challenging its contractor community to be a global benchmark of quality management practices. The award was established in 1985 as NASA’s Excellence Award for Quality and Productivity and renamed in 1990 in memory of George M. Low, an outstanding leader with a strong commitment to quality products and workforce during his 27-year tenure at the agency. Low was NASA’s deputy administrator from 1969 to 1976 and a leader in the early development of space programs. Read the full NASA news release here.

Read a 2001 profile of Baker in the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics newsletter for alumni and friends.

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Phillips Plastics co-founder Cervenka honored in U.S. House speech

On May 14, 2013, Congressman Sean P. Duffy of Wisconsin delivered a short talk before the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize alum Robert Cervenka (BSME ’58). Cervenka co-founded Phillips Plastics in 1964 and was its chairman and CEO until he and his wife, Debbie (the company executive vice president and a member of the board of directors), sold it in 2010.

Bob Cervenka recently earned a lifetime achievement award from the Price County (Wisconsin) Economic Development Association.

Following is a transcript of Duffy’s U.S. House speech:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the business accomplishments of Robert F. Cervenka of Phillips, Wisconsin, who has been presented the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Price County Economic Development Association.

Bob Cervenka was born and raised in the small town of Phillips, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After his graduation in 1958, Bob returned to the community that he loved to pursue his new business venture–the Phillips Plastics Corporation.

Phillips Plastics began operations on October 20, 1964, occupying an old creamery building in Phillips. In 1967, the company broke ground on a new 12,000 square foot custom plastic facility where they employed 30 skilled workers dedicated to crafting innovative control knobs for automobiles, dishwashers, fans, dehumidifiers, and dryers. In 1973, Phillips Plastics opened Precision Decorating in Medford, Wisconsin.

Shortly thereafter, the facility became known as Phillips Automotive, a full service design, manufacture, decoration, and assembly plant for high volume injection molded components. As industries from the Midwest moved to the south and offshore, Bob recognized that Wisconsin’s rural, small community workforce offered a unique competitive advantage. He developed additional plants in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, New Richmond, Hudson, and Prescott among others.

Capitalizing on the company’s success, Mr. Cervenka and co-founder Louie Vokurka established the independent philanthropic Ann Marie Foundation in 1974. Named after their mothers, the foundation worked to improve the quality of life within local communities that are home to Phillips Plastics facilities. Since its inception, the foundation has given over $8 million to schools and non-profit organizations.

Thanks to the business contributions of outstanding citizens like Robert F. Cervenka, Wisconsin’s economic future looks bright. I ask that my colleagues join me today to express our appreciation for Bob’s entrepreneurial spirit and our congratulations to him on receiving this well-deserved award.”

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Detecting Explosives: Schuff Seeks Funds to Finish Invention

Apollo 17 Astronaut, U.S. Senator, and Geologist Dr. Harrison "Jack" Schmitt presents a poster commemorating the Apollo 17 mission to Craig Schuff.

It’s been nearly two years since that fateful evening in May 2011 when Craig Schuff (then 25), a former competitive swimmer, dove into Lake Monona in Wisconsin and severely damaged his spinal cord.

Craig, now a quadriplegic, spent an entire year hospitalized at the University of Wisconsin hospital, but that did not impede his educational pursuits. Last November, Craig passed the oral exam for his master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He now is trying to finish experimental work for his Ph.D. and raise funds to complete an invention that can detect explosives.
To contribute to the fund, visit:
Read more…

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Johanek Pursues Entrepreneurial Dreams

Scott Johanek with his prize-winning invention, NoVo

Mechanical engineering alumnus Scott Johanek (BSME, ’12) won the Tong Prototype Prize in 2012 for his luggage system designed with pivoting wheels. The wheels kept the bag from falling over while in travel. The idea place second in the Schoofs’ Prize for Creativity.
Now, he is pursing a new venture; messenger bags with removable flaps that hold customized messages. He hopes to build his business and create jobs in Shawano County. Read more… 

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Zinkle Named Fellow of Materials Research Society

Steven Zinkle

Senior materials researcher and Corporate Fellow Steven Zinkle of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been named a 2013 Fellow of the Materials Research Society (MRS).

Zinkle was awarded the UW-Madison College of Engineering Distinguished Achievement Award in 2010. He earned his BS, MS and PhD in nuclear engineering from UW-Madison in 1980, ’82 and ’85.

Acknowledged for his “pioneering contributions to the understanding of radiation effects in materials and for advancing the scientific basis of performance limits for structural materials in advanced nuclear energy systems,” Zinkle will be formally recognized during the spring MRS meeting in April. Read more…

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Rohrig Asks Badgers to Click Him into Space

Jake Rohrig

Jake Rohrig (BSEMA, ’12) has long dreamed of being an astronaut. He knew it was a tough job to get so he studied hard, earned a degree and took a job as a mechanical engineer with UTC Aerospace Systems in Rockford, Illinois. His work designing generators for aircraft keeps him close to all things aerospace and connected to his dream.

Ironically, UTC won’t be sending Rohrig to space anytime soon, but AXE Apollo deodorant body spray just might.

Linx Mark llIn mid February, AXE launched a contest whereby the two people who collect the most votes by midnight, April 27 will win a trip to AXE Space Camp in Orlando, Florida. The winner will be trained and sent to an altitude of 103 km on a premier flight by Space Expedition Corporation. It’s a chance of a lifetime and a trip easily worth $100,000.

Currently, an Internet celebrity who pulls pranks on his girlfriend is in the lead with more than 50,000 votes. Frankly, this breaks Rohrig’s heart.

“Everyone in this contest, in the top five, are all pretty much Internet celebrities. So for me to be competitive with them at all is kind of amazing to begin with,” Rohrig says. “But I hope to show, that through hard work, dedication and the network of a great alma mater, pretty much anything is possible.”

This, hopefully, is where readers of this blog and friends of Badgers everywhere come in. Supporters of Rohrig can vote here

Currently, he moves in and out of the top ten with about 1,400 votes. Rohrig hopes fellow badgers will use their twitter feeds and social media accounts to vote and spread the word.

Already, through a friend of a friend, Rohrig connected with fellow Badger Logan Cascia, a videographer who created the viral video titled “Teach Me How to Bucky.” The two produced the following promotional video, titled “Badasstronaut.”

So now, it is up to you. Will this hard working Badger engineer get his few minutes in space, or will the prize go to someone who famously tricked his girlfriend into eating a spoonful of cinnamon?

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Nondorf Finds Success at Oshkosh Corp.

Jill Nondorf

Jill Nondorf (BSMSE, ’06, ME, ’11) finds success in failure.

The Dodgeville native has worked as a principal engineer at Oshkosh Corp. for the past six years, going “CSI” on broken and failed truck parts to assess what went wrong and to help suppliers ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The job might not be new or unusual for major manufacturers like Oshkosh Corp., but Nondorf has nonetheless blazed a trail as the first woman to join the department. And she’s working hard to encourage other women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These fields are often referred to collectively as STEM fields. Read more…

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