TUCSON, ARIZ. -- University of Arizona alumnus John Lombardi has won one of
the 1999 R&D 100 Awards, which have been called "the Nobel Prizes of Applied
The R&D100 Awards are given to the 100 most technologically significant new
products and processes of the year as judged by the editors and staff of R&D
Magazine and 70 outside experts
For Lombardi, a 1996 materials science and engineering Ph.D. graduate from
the University of Arizona in Tucson, the award is particularly prestigious,
coming so early in his career. Winners usually are older, having worked for
several years to develop a new device or process.
Previous winners include developers of the flashcube, digital watch,
antilock brakes, automated teller machine, halogen lamp, and FAX machine.
Lombardi and Gregory Artz won the award for inventing a polymer blend that
minimizes cleanup work on parts made with rapid prototyping machines. The
material, called Aqua-Port, also allows engineers to construct complex
shapes that could be produced in no other way.
Lombardi and Artz developed Aqua-Port at Tucson_s Advanced Ceramics
Research, Inc. (ACR), where Lombardi is the senior research scientist and
Artz is a senior research technician.
Rapid prototyping involves "growing" parts by using a 3-D CAD program to
drive an extrusion head that deposits molten materials layer-by-layer.
Overhanging layers tend to slump before they solidify, and a support layer
has to be co-deposited to support them.
After the part is completed, the support layer must be removed, often with
tedious application of a dental pick and tweezers.
By contrast, Aqua-Port is removed by submerging the finished part in water
for about ten to 15 minutes.
Since water easily seeps in where machine tools and even dental picks cannot
go, engineers can use Aqua-Port to produce devices that couldn_t be made
with traditional machining or rapid prototyping techniques.
The chess piece with an internal spiral staircase that Lombardi has on his
desk is one example. Another is an assembly of meshed gears _ called a brain
gear _ that is grown as a single assembly on a rapid prototyping machine.
Aqua-Port, a blend of water-soluble and insoluble polymers, is nontoxic and
can be safely washed down the drain. It also is thermally stable,
withstanding temperatures over 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
Several University of Arizona engineering students worked on the project,
and materials science and engineering Professor Paul Calvert also played a
ACR has sold the Aqua-Port technology to a major manufacturer of rapid
But, Lombardi says, ACR has retained the rights to use Aqua-Port for other
applications. Currently ACR engineers are studying the material_s use in
other areas, including pressure-sensitive adhesives and as a modeling
material that could be machined and used in processes similar to a lost-wax
casting. In this application, a model made from Aqua-Port would be washed
out after the mold has been formed around it.
The 1999 R&D Awards will be presented in Chicago on September 23.