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Boeing’s latest ideas and technical breakthroughs recently granted or published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

March 16, 2021 in Innovation, Technology

By Melanie Morrill, Boeing Writer

Lasting light

“Systems and Methods for Operating a Light System”
U.S. Patent: 10,852,638
Inventor: Associate Technical Fellow Melanie L. Kimsey-Lin is a Boeing systems engineer in Product & Services Safety.

Melanie Kimsey-Lin took to science early. “Growing up, I really liked science fiction books and shows like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Dune.’ And my dad was always tinkering in the garage,” she said. “So I picked up a lot of my curiosity about how things work from him.”

Becoming an inventor was not a goal but a happy consequence of her work. “Labs and experiments always appealed to me,” she said. And to see her efforts result in a product is “kind of a bonus.”

One such bonus is recently issued U.S. Patent No. 10,852,638, “Systems and Methods for Operating a Light System,” which is one of a series of patents for disinfecting an environment with ultraviolet light. This particular patent describes a method of maintaining the same strength of the light over a period of time to also maintain the same kill rate for bacteria and viruses.

LIGHT SOURCE: Perspective and cross-section views of the UV light source that includes the light sensor above the lamp.


Previous attempts allowed electrical input that resulted in a reasonable output throughout the bulb life but did not change input to compensate for degradation or environmental conditions. Kimsey-Lin devised a method to provide a power supply that adjusts the voltage or frequency to the UV light source as the output changes. The goal is to achieve uniform performance throughout the bulb’s life. This way, a 2-year-old light is just as effective for disinfection as a new light.

CYCLE OF LIGHT: From the official U.S. Patent: “The control device and the light sensor can dynamically adjust operation of the power converter to maintain the target level of antimicrobial efficacy over a plurality of activation cycles of the UV light source.”


Unaware of what was to come, the invention disclosure was filed in 2017, well before the COVID-19 pandemic. Having more than two years of development for this technology provided a critical head start for Boeing’s efforts to provide cleaner, healthier aircraft environments.

Explore the complete patent document here.

Sensor and sensibility

“Indicator Device and Method”
U.S. Patent: 10,871,405
Inventor: Associate Technical Fellow Paul G. Vahey works in chemical technology integration for Boeing Research & Technology.

Paul Vahey calls himself a helper. “I’m much better at tweaking than coming up with the first article. I enjoy helping you improve,” he said.

When he saw a sensor developed by the University of Washington for nondestructive monitoring of thermal exposure, he sensed an opportunity. Given his background as an analytical chemist, he suspected the device might need modification to be used for its intended purpose, monitoring temperatures in airplane engines.

The material in the sensor changed color the more it was heated. However, it was originally placed on a transparent material and interrogated using fluorescence spectroscopy, which made it highly susceptible to interference from surrounding materials, especially when those materials also fluoresce.

LAYERED APPROACH: Cross-section schematic of the indicator device that provides for nondestructive evaluation of external stimuli (such as thermal effects and mechanical forces) on any suitable parts, such as aircraft parts.


Vahey figured out how to add a reflective layer between the material of the sensor and the material it was testing. The result was U.S. Patent No. 10,871,405, “Indicator Device and Method.” Not only does this improvement make for a stronger, faster sensor that is less susceptible to interference, but it also allows the sensor to be used on any surface.

STOP THE NOISE: The indicator device is coupled to a surface of the part during testing/manufacture of the aircraft or during normal operation. The device is interrogated. Background noise from the part is blocked by the reflective layer.


Vahey and his University of Washington colleagues were able to collaborate freely because Boeing and the university had an agreement in place that defined intellectual property ownership rights. They were energized by the challenge of figuring out how to transform material in the lab into a real-world application. Last year, the thermal tape made its debut during testing. This year, it will likely get its second flight on a Boeing test plane.

Explore the complete patent document here.