James Mitchell

Posted by Liz Moise on Jun 18, 2008 10:41:45 AM

I am not a fan of research for the sake of research. I like to see a direct application of my work. In this regard, InnoCentive is a gift from heaven for me. I have always been interested in applying my research and reasoning skills to practical problems. It is this kind of need that fires my imagination. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, I want to contribute to the solution.

I get a real kick out of working on a subject that is far from my inner sphere of expertise, especially when my ideas turn out to be good. Winning two InnoCentive Challenges, one on corrosion detection and the other on sulfur encapsulation for lubrication applications, are some of the achievements of which I am most proud. Of course I have rendered many other solutions that were not accepted. (Ed Melcarek and Nikolay Barashkov are strong competition!). But I did enjoy formulating them and I shall continue to send in proposed solutions, for who knows, maybe they will turn out to be valuable and, yes, lucrative.

In my career as a University Professor, the bulk of my research has been concerned with measuring electron-ion recombination processes that are important reactions in astro- chemistry, upper atmosphere and plasma physics. For this work I have used large particle accelerators, nuclear detection technology and ultra-high vacuum systems. Though the subject is very much an academic pursuit, I have always believed that it is important that one's research can have applications to larger problems. For example, efficient molecular ion recombination processes are essential for cooling the plasma in the divertor regions of the new ITER controlled fusion machine being built in the South of France. Without a good cooling mechanism, based upon a clear understanding of atomic and molecular processes, these vital regions, that are used to remove the energy from the machine, will be destroyed. In my earlier work, I studied atomic ion recombination that is a process that prevented the temperature of previous generations of fusion machines from being increased. Only a clear understanding of this phenomenon and how to work around it allowed the present day fusion program to progress.

I have worked on oil spill problems, seeking a method to efficiently burn oil spills while minimizing smoke emissions. This work led me to the development of a low smoke emitting fuel for firefighter training “Tekflame”, working with scientists from Imperial Oil Ltd. in Canada and EXXON Chemical Co., USA and with fire experts from the US Air Force. This research was really fun and involved setting fires, 100 feet in diameter, and watching them be extinguished by foam-spewing fire trucks. I really enjoyed working with firefighters, for they are people who are passionate about what they do.

I have done consulting for various industries including focusing on problems involving oil and gas flares, engine combustion, heat exchangers in coal furnaces, aerospace propulsion and even air conditioning. In all these diverse areas, I feel that the mental exercises that I perform trying to understand atomic and molecular processes pay off in giving me an agile brain that can approach problems from a different angle. I think this is what they call thinking “out of the box“.

I hope the Seekers get as much out of these Challenges as I do as a Solver. It delights me also to see that companies are willing to look outside their doors for ideas and to take a chance on finding answers that they might never have dreamed of. Keep up the good work InnoCentive.

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