Bennett C. Ward
Bennett C. Ward, a retired associate professor in the VCU College of Engineering, has been awarded the highest professional distinction for an academic inventor. (Photo courtesy VCU Engineering)

Engineering professor named National Academy of Inventors fellow

Bennett Ward has invented the technologies behind a world of products, including surgical devices, inkjet printers, at-home pregnancy tests and air fresheners.

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Bennett C. Ward, Ph.D., has been elected as a fellow in the National Academy of Inventors, the highest professional distinction accorded solely to academic inventors. 

Ward is a prolific inventor who currently holds 35 patents. His inventions span many technology areas including oil extraction, at-home pregnancy tests, surgical devices, printer inks and air fresheners. A 33-year industry veteran, Ward’s research focuses on polymer chemistry, novel filtration systems and new product development. 

From 2015-21, Ward was the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering’s director of project outreach and ran the college’s Capstone Design program, which takes student teams through a yearlong process of innovating solutions to real-world problems. He also led a Vertically Integrated Projects team developing medical devices, which featured close collaboration between VCU’s engineering and health sciences programs. He now holds an affiliate appointment with VCU’s Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering.

“Under Dr. Ward’s leadership, our students learned how to envision novel solutions to problems and then make them real. He inspired them to think creatively while at the same time to find a path to make their ideas result in practical outcomes. It is small wonder that he generated so many important inventions throughout his career,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. dean of the College of Engineering.

As a research chemist with the Hoechst Celanese Corp. in the 1980s and research and development manager in the 1990s, Ward invented Celazole, a thermoplastic that remains the most thermally resistant and moldable polymer ever commercialized. Celazole is used widely throughout the aerospace and oil industries, in key temperature and chemically resistant components used for oil well blow-out preventers, and in composite matrix resins for high-temperature aerospace applications. 

Ward then joined Filtrona as vice president of research and development. There, he developed innovations that are seen regularly in Target, Walmart, Office Depot, CVS and other retailers. Examples include the wicking material and color-change technology used in at-home pregnancy tests, a wick that gives home fragrance devices better fragrance-throw and an inkjet printer technology that wastes less ink.

While training young innovators at the VCU College of Engineering, Ward’s avocation as an inventor continued. He was part of the interdisciplinary VCU team that developed the patented “No Wire Left Behind” device that prevents wires from being left inside patients during surgery. 

Ward emphasized that collaboration is key to almost all successful inventions and hesitates to view his election to the National Academy of Inventors fellows program as a purely individual honor. 

“I want to mention that I am the sole inventor on only one of my patents,” he said. Because developing new inventions usually requires many complex specialties, Ward said, most patents are the product of teams, not individuals. 

“In fact,” he added, “I sometimes look sideways at patents that list only one inventor. I wonder who was left out.” 

Ward and the other 2021 fellows will be honored in a ceremony at the National Academy of Inventors meeting in June. He is the College of Engineering’s third NAI fellow. B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. Chair in Pharmaceutical Engineering and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, was inducted as an NAI fellow in 2019. Boyan was named VCU’s first NAI fellow in 2016.