Taxol & Termites Among Accomplishments Of Florida Inventors

Jun 5, 2015

Inventor Thomas Edison, seen here holding one of his light bulbs, was inducted into the inaugural Florida Inventor's Hall of Fame class last year. Henry Ford joins him this year, along with six living inventors.
Credit Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology Via Flikr / WFSU News

Several Florida professors are joining the ranks of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford in The Florida Inventor’s Hall of Fame. The second annual class will be inducted this fall.

In 1992 scientists successful chemically synthesized the anti-cancer drug Taxol for the first time. Florida State University professor Dr. Robert Holton led the research group behind the medical breakthrough. Twenty-three years later, Holton will be inducted into the Florida Inventors’ Hall of Fame in its second annual induction ceremony. Holton’s accomplishments are in the company of, green termite control, new HIV research with a feline immunodeficiency virus vaccine, as well as the aeronautical research done in Florida by Henry Ford.

The Florida Inventors’ Hall of Fame recognizes work that improves quality of life for people in the state and the rest of the U.S. The Chair of the Hall of Fame’s Advisory Board and Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation & Economic Development at the University of South Florida, Dr. Paul Sanberg, said the Florida Hall of Fame was inspired by the national group’s lack of Floridian inventors.

“What I saw, was very few Floridians. And it just kind of, I just was taken aback. I was thinking, ‘You know, I’ve been in Florida a long time, I’m actually a Florida native,” he said. “I know there’s great Floridians here doing great inventions.”

Dr. Sanberg is himself an inductee into this year’s class. He invented new ways to approach drug and cell therapies that treat strokes, ALS, and Alzheimer’s disease. To be considered, he stepped down from his duties in the selection process.

Sanberg said his own father’s stroke helped focus some of his cell therapy research that is now in clinical trials. He also said a lot of this year’s inductees in the hall of fame come from research universities within Florida.

“It really takes the tenacity and support of the institutions at which you’re at. And so, like the first year, many of the inventors are from universities,” he said. “And so I think what it really shows, is how great our research universities are in the state.”

One such inductee, Dr. Nan-Yao Su, conducted his termite research at the University of Florida. Su’s invention is a method of exterminating termites in houses that uses 600 fold less pesticide and is more effective at killing an entire colony. Su said the inspiration came to him for one reason:

“Curiosity. Ha-ha.”

Su says when he heard he’d been selected for the hall of fame, he thought it was an April Fool’s joke.

“The day they email that I [became] an inductee, was April Fool’s Day, and I just could not believe it,” Su said. “So I sent an email back to them, ‘Ok, can you send the same email message tomorrow when it’s not April fools?’ So, I was kind of totally shocked by the fact that I was actually [chosen] to be a part of this really prestigious group of people.” 

Both Sanberg and Su say they’re feeling honored to be openly nominated to join this group of innovators. That’s part of the hall of fame’s mission at work, to inspire young inventors for future generations of groundbreaking research. The official gala and induction ceremony will be held in Tampa on October 2, 2015.