Rutgers-Newark Physicist Wins NJ Inventor of the Year Award

Professor Daniel Murnick (left) in his lab with Research Project Coordinator Mark DeGuzman in March 2012

 

Professor Daniel Murnick is an applied physicist who lives in a world of invention. As a researcher and scholar with 14 patents to his credit, his work has led to numerous technologies that have been adopted in the commercial sector.

Now he has another feather in his cap: induction into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great feeling to win the award,” says Murnick. “I was surprised to be nominated and was really pleased when I received the letter.”

Before arriving at Rutgers-Newark in 1988, Murnick spent 20 years as a research scientist at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., where he worked not on communications but on spectrometry and isotopes, which would inform his later work.

“I was at Bell Labs in its heyday. It was a very inventive place, and it stays with you,” says Murnick, who adds that a significant number of 2011 NJ Inventors Hall of Fame award recipients have been affiliated with Bell Laboratories. "Many Nobel Prize–winners have come out of there as well,” he says.

Last fall, Murnick was inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame for coming up with a laser-based method of detecting carbon-14 (14C), a process that up until recently required the use of radioactivity.

Pharmaceutical companies have leveraged the new method, which makes it easier for them to detect how drugs are metabolized in our bodies.

All drugs, according to Murnick, contain carbon. To measure how small amounts are metabolized, you need to ‘label’ drugs with 14C, and then you need a way to detect it.

“In this case, when you ‘label’ a drug with 14C, you’re attaching 14C to it, tracing the migration of a drug throughout the body, then using our laser-method to detect the 14C to see where the drug went in the body and how much was absorbed,” says Murnick. “This helps pharmaceutical companies in their drug trials before bringing products to market.”

Given Murnick’s long-standing interest in this subfield of physics, it’s not surprising that this new laser procedure grew out of one of his previous inventions: a way to perform breath-test labeling with carbon-13, a nonradioactive version of carbon.

He received a patent for that invention during the ’90s, then licensed the technology to a company where two of his former students worked. That invention netted him the Edison Patent Award from the Research & Development Council of New Jersey in 1996.

For Murnick, however, the urge to invent comes from not only from his love of physics but also from a deeply held belief about the role of science in the world.

“I think of myself as an applied physicist using fundamental physics in ways that are beneficial to society,” says Murnick. “While this kind of work often leads to new technologies and patents, it’s the benefit to society that is, and always will be, at the heart of my work.”