Ma recognized with Donald Q. Kern Award for pioneering, ongoing research

July 06, 2023

Bill Ma in front of books

Hongbin “Bill” Ma is being recognized this month with the Donald Q. Kern Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) for his pioneering work around heat transfer processes and oscillating heat pipes.

Ma, who is Chair and Curators’ Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will receive the award and deliver a plenary keynote at the society’s Summer Heat Transfer Conference in Washington on July 12.

“It’s exciting to have my work recognized, my contributions to the field,” said Ma, who over the past decade has turned his foundational studies into oscillating heat pipe technology for top defense companies, as well as for use in household products.

Ma has made profound contributions to the phase change heat transfer theory and engineering application of heat pipes. His company, ThermAvant Technologies, has become the sole company to manufacture and sell oscillating heat pipe cooling devices to the top defense companies in the U.S.

To the general public, Ma is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Burnout mug. Manufactured by his company ThermAvant International, the mug uses principles from his research to instantly cool and keep hot coffee at a perfect drinking temperature for hours.

These days, Ma is turning his attention to making industrial and household appliances more energy efficient. At the heart of the work is a patent-pending condenser that could revolutionize heating and cooling systems. The condenser recovers moisture from vapor and recycles it within a system, ensuring heat stays where it should.

One such application is a new type of dryer that keeps heat inside the drum rather than exhausting it out of a vent. The heat is vaporized and reused, resulting in zero-loss energy. Ma envisions manufacturing industrial-sized dryers used for products such as cereals and grains, wood and coffee beans.

He’s also using those same principles to design more efficient air conditioning units.

“These types of improvements are of national interest as we strive to improve energy efficiency and energy storage,” said Ma, who is director of the Multiphysics Energy Center.

This isn’t the first time Ma has received high honors for his work. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Missourian Progress Award for Entrepreneurship. In 2020, he was elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. And in 2018, his company received the 100 R&D Award for OHP thermal control technology.

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