In October 2015, the Alaska Statewide Committee for Research inducted the initial class to the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame. Check out the innovators' profiles below.
Alex Hills - Hills is a Palmer resident who learned the complexities of ham radio signals as a boy in a New Jersey attic and honed his skills while installing communications systems throughout Bush Alaska. Hills used his Alaska problem-solving skills to develop the first Wi-Fi network at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Hills did not invent Wi-Fi, but Wireless Andrew, the child of his imagination, became an extensive wireless network, one that techno geeks copied and improved upon.
Bernie Karl - Bernie Karl is a crusader for alternative energy. Karl and his wife Connie purchased Chena Hot Springs in 1998, when he drilled the first geothermal well on the property and heated buildings with hot water instead of diesel. In an unprecedented effort, he has also pulled electricity from the temperature difference between the icy water of a nearby creek and subsurface water hot as coffee. That hot water powers his resort and also helps keep his one-of-a-kind ice museum frozen on 90-degree days.
Cathy Cahill - Driven by the opportunities and problems that emerge in a land often cloaked in wildfire smoke or hazy with volcanic ash, Cathy Cahill continues to stamp her own impression on the field of atmospheric science. She invented an air-sensing system that alerts pilots they are encountering volcanic ash particles. She has become a sought-after expert regarding the bitter, smoky midwinter air of her adopted home of Fairbanks and serves as a fellow to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. With the help of university machinist Greg Shipman and electronics specialist David Giesel of the unmanned aircraft program, she moved her samplers from a 40-pound Pelican case to an eight-pound unit that fits in the nose of an unmanned aircraft.
Clarence Berry - Clarence Berry became one of the success stories of northern Gold Rush history. Not only would he leave the territory of Alaska as one of the richest men alive, he left behind inventions that made cold-country mining more efficient. His ideas helped push Alaska into its gold boom, which brought into existence Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.
Dennis Nottingham - Dennis Nottingham is a retired engineer who designed more than 300 Alaska bridges. With designs from Hurricane Gulch to Sitka on his resume, Nottingham’s bridges have carried thousands of Alaskans across glacial rivers and have guided Iditarod mushers over six lanes of speeding traffic above Tudor Road in Anchorage. He faced glacial rivers, giant earthquakes, killer cold, spills of toxins into giant rivers and so many other variables that make working in Alaska different from anywhere else.
Ed Clinton and Lynn Johnson - Ed Johnson worked with Clinton on arctic-proofed systems that shut down wellheads if instruments detected changes in oil-flow pressure — an indicator of leaks, fires or surges in the well. Clinton and Johnson beat out established manufacturers by applying their cold-weather knowledge to the control systems. From Alaska to the Middle East, more than 7,000 of the devices with the company nameplate are now performing silent service.
Elden Johnson - In 1973, Elden Johnson was a young engineer with a job working on one of the most ambitious and uncertain projects in the world — an 800-mile steel pipeline that carried hot oil over frozen ground. Thirty-five years later, Johnson looks back at what he calls “the greatest story ever told of man’s interaction with permafrost.”
Erwin "Erv" Long - While looking over the tundra landscape covered with a modern town, Long pondered why no one applied the thermosiphon principle — a heat-exchange system that works by convection and requires no electric power — to keep frozen foundations stable. Long pulled out a drafting pad and sketched what he called a thermopile. With it, he envisioned a way to use the cold air of winter to pull heat from the ground and stop permafrost from thawing.
Gene Strid - Gene Strid’s team of engineers eliminated the satellite delay problem in much of rural Alaska. Now, most of all the satellite-served villages in the Aleutian, western, northwestern and arctic coast have the new systems of software-defined switches and base stations, servers and towers. The team pulled it off by modifying and installing small computers that can run software that performs most of the functions of big switches in larger towns.
Greg Walker - As the director of the Alaska Center for UAS Integration, part of UAF’s Geophysical Institute, Walker has acquired a fleet of flying tools in an enterprise that is making he and his team very busy. The unmanned aerial vehicle business is on the rise in Alaska, as more agencies come to UAF to work with Walker and his crew. Alaska is one of six official test sites for unmanned aircraft sanctioned by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Gwen Holdmann - Holdmann, an Alaska resident for more than 20 years, has never written a check to the local utility. The array of solar panels in front of Holdmann and Anderson’s log house absorbs enough juice to charge the row of batteries within their home. The wind turbine is high on a tower behind the house. Holdmann is the director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. At the center, researchers working with Holdmann simulate the varied sources of power used in communities around Alaska.
Jack Hébert - Hébert is president and founder of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. In the late 1990s, Hébert gathered a group of Alaska builders and established a nonprofit center in which people study housing techniques and materials designed for places like Alaska. Along with Aaron Cooke, an architectural designer with the center, Hébert has assisted others in remote places like Atmautluak, Anaktuvuk Pass, Quinhagak, Crooked Creek and Point Lay to design and build low-cost, fuel-sipping, semi-subterranean houses that mesh with the landscape and the lifestyles of the locals.
Jim Seccombe - Jim Seccombe, a Coloradan who came up to Alaska in 1986 to work for BP Exploration Alaska, was the supervisor of a team that proved it is possible to extract up to 20-40 percent more oil from past their prime oilfields by pressuring them with fresher water.
Keith Echelmeyer - Echelmeyer, a University of Alaska Fairbanks glaciologist wanted hard data to confirm what his eyes were telling him: Alaska’s glaciers were shrinking. Over time he created a system to measure those glaciers from his plane. He installed a GPS, rangefinder, gyroscope, compass, a laser that transmitted light to the surface of a glacier, and a receiver that calculated the time it took the beam to return. The majority of the glaciers Echelmeyer had flown from Washington to northern Alaska had thinned overall in a similar manner from the 1950s to the 1990s. And the rate of melting almost doubled during the period of Echelmeyer’s airplane measurements, from the 1990s to 2001. Meltwater from those glaciers, most of them in Alaska, contributed about 10 percent to the rate of global sea level rise.
Mark Gronewald - Gronewald dreamed of a better snow bike. Gronewald put together Evingson’s frame with Molina’s tires and the lightest components he could afford. In a few weeks, he had a prototype fat bike that resembles those being sold today. With the ability to drop the tire pressure down to as low as five pounds per square inch, riders were able to spread their weight out on the trail and pedal where others were pushing.
Pat Simpson - Simpson is a fisherman turned entrepreneur who has purchased salmon heads from fish processors doing business in Nikiski, and using precision equipment made in Europe, steams and grinds the heads of pink, chum and red salmon to render a product now available in box stores as 90-count bottles of fish oil gel tablets. Simpson’s venture with his company Alaska Marine Nutrition is part of a dream to enable fish processors in remote places to use the oiliest part of a salmon — its head. Of the more than 200 fish processors scattered throughout the state, only about half recover the fish heads and guts. The fishing industry produces and dumps back to the ocean more than 1 million metric tons of fish parts each year. “I wanted to build something I could hold in my hand,” he said. “Wild Alaska salmon oil — that’s our oil. It’s very gratifying to produce.”
Sheri Tingey - “Zipperboats” are the latest of Tingey’s improvements to the packraft — a rip-resistant, ultralight boat that compresses into a loaf that fits the bottom of a backpack. With her Alaska-inspired creations, the owner of Alpacka Rafts has changed adventure travel around the world.
Skip Nelson - In 2000, the Federal Aviation Administration offered 280 aircraft operators flying in the Yukon- Kuskokwim Delta a new air-traffic control system that doesn’t rely on people recognizing planes as blips on radar screens. Installed on aircraft, ADS-B sends a digital message every second to FAA ground stations and other planes and helicopters equipped to receive it. Aircraft show up in real time on screens within cockpits and control towers. The system does everything radar does, without requiring radar stations on the ground. Seizing an opportunity, in 2004 Nelson started ADS-B Technologies LLC, a company devoted to the radar replacement system launched and improved upon in Alaska. Nelson’s company has improved on the FAA’s technology by developing a space-based system that allows ADS-B to work over the horizon, rather than just where pilots have a direct line-of sight.
Tim Myers - Growing up, Tim Meyers did not dream of tilling the Alaska tundra. He learned farming at his grandparents’ dairy farm in northern Wisconsin but a love for flying brought him north. To feed a succession of four daughters, he and his wife planted a garden. Things grew so well that Meyers converted more land for planting. He extended his growing season by months with the use of plastic; it covers high tunnels, which resemble translucent Quonset huts, and knee-high low tunnels. Meyers was surprised at what the land delivered.
Tom Weingartner/Hank Statscewich - Oceanographer Tom Weingartner of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a team
led by university research analyst Hank Statscewich developed their own power source
for working in remote Alaska locations. The stand-alone units power computers, a satellite-communication
system and high-frequency radars that map surface currents in the Chukchi and Beaufort
seas, allowing researchers and others to see where the water is moving. The renewable-energy
harnessing unit, known as a remote power module, has four turbines to capture the
almost constant wind of the northern coast. Solar panels the size of sheets of plywood
point southward, providing power during the occasional calms of summer. The wind and
solar provide enough juice to run the high frequency radars, which measure currents
based on the speed with which the waves travel across the sea surface. The radars
work during the open-water season.