CLEMSON – Clemson University chemistry professor R. Kenneth Marcus has been named a Fellow to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), the organization announced Tuesday.

ken poses in lab

Ken Marcus is a University Professor of Chemistry.
Image Credit: Hannah Halusker, College of Science

The title recognizes academic inventors who have made an “impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society” with the inventions they’ve patented.

In becoming an NAI Fellow, Marcus joined a class of 912 NAI Fellows representing more than 250 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes. NAI Fellows include Nobel Prize Laureates, National Medal recipients and members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Marcus is Clemson University’s second NAI Fellow, following in the footsteps of John Ballato, a professor of materials science and engineering, who was elected in 2015.

Nominees must be a named inventor on a patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Collectively, NAI Fellows hold more than 32,000 issued U.S. patents.

Marcus, who specializes in the development of analytical chemistry instrumentation, certainly meets that requirement.

“We have probably a dozen or more patents – we’ve gotten two awarded just this year,” Marcus said. “All of our patents are on apparatuses and methods – what the device is, and how you would use it.”


One of Marcus’ patents is on a device that can detect levels of uranium and their isotopic compositions.
Image Credit: Hannah Halusker, College of Science

Marcus and his students have recently been working in the area of nuclear nonproliferation to develop safeguards against the spread of nuclear weapons. One of his patents is on a device that is being developed to detect the levels of uranium – and their isotopic compositions – within a nuclear plant to ensure that the element is being used with peaceful intent.

“You want to be able to go to some kind of nuclear facility and figure out whether the materials people are processing are legal or not,” Marcus said. “The people we work with in the Department of Energy are literally ensuring our national safety, in terms of who has nuclear materials that could be used as weapons.”

In biopharmaceuticals – a field of research that uses biotechnology to make medical drugs – Marcus has patented a device that purifies antibodies. Once purified, a drug can be chemically bonded to the antibodies for targeted delivery, allowing the immune system to distinguish between healthy and diseased cells.

“We work with Merck, a pharmaceutical company, which makes antibodies. Probably the one you’ve seen most often is Keytruda, a cancer immunotherapy drug. We’re helping Merck develop processes that will allow them to better control how they make and characterize those antibodies,” Marcus said. “So, healthcare is kind of big thing in our lab.”

Marcus was nominated for the title of NAI Fellow by the Clemson University Research Foundation for his pursuit of innovation and his productivity in securing patents. He says he is honored to be a 2017 Fellow of the NAI.

“I knew that I was being nominated last year, and that wasn’t successful. But I got the email this week saying, ‘Okay, you’re in this year,’ and that was cool,” Marcus said. “It’s all about being recognized by your peers.”

Marcus has also patented a device that purifies antibodies.
Image Credit: Hannah Halusker, College of Science

Apparao Rao, the incoming Associate Dean for Discovery in the College of Science, praised Marcus on the honor.

“Ken has served as a Clemson faculty member for over 30 years, and during this time he developed plasma-based spectroscopic methods that are now commercially available to the scientific community,” Rao said. “It is no surprise that the National Academy of Inventors elected him as a Fellow for his exemplary service to our society, and Clemson University takes immense pride in him for advancing research and innovation that impacts our lives in positive ways.”

Marcus will be officially inducted into the academy on April 5, 2018 in Washington, D.C., at the Seventh Annual NAI Conference of the National Academy of Inventors.

Marcus patented his first device – one that analyzed the elemental makeup of metals – when he was in graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he later received his Ph.D. in analytical chemistry (1986). Presently, Marcus serves on the editorial advisory board for three international journals and was the recipient of the 2001 S.C. Governor’s Award for Excellence in Science Research. He is a named Fellow for three other scientific societies – the Royal Society of Chemistry (2010), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012) and the Society for Applied Spectroscopy (2016).

When asked what his favorite part of his job is, Marcus’ inventions weren’t the first thing to come to mind.

“I enjoy working with grad students – they are my product. I have lots of patents, and people use my devices, but I’m most proud of my students,” Marcus said.

Having graduated 36 Ph.D. students, Marcus is one of the top graduate advisors at Clemson University.