Written by Anne Krapfl | Photo by Christopher Gannon
April 30, 2024

Mark Bryden

  • Professor of mechanical engineering; founding director of the Division of Simulation, Modeling and Decision, Ames National Laboratory
  • 25 years at Iowa State

Meaningful accomplishment

Leading teams that received three R&D 100 Awards (2006, 2009, 2010) for virtual reality software that quickly converts data to 3D design models. Called the "Oscars of invention," the R&D 100 Awards recognize the most promising products, processes and materials introduced to the market the previous year.

    "Those awards are important to me largely because they meant someone valued the work we were doing -- beyond people in my technical area," said Mark Bryden. "Much of professor work is focused on your peers, papers and who's citing your work. That can be 20 or fewer people. The real question is, how many people are actually aware of your work and doing something with it? Our group was focused on 'what's changed?'

    "In our case, these were open source software packages, so nobody was paying for them, but they were being used. The most successful one had several thousand downloads, and industry people wrote letters on our behalf saying these were important to them. For me, that meant my work had legs beyond being a professor giving a class lecture or attending a conference where you're asked to give the keynote."

    Teams apply and compete for the annual R&D 100 Awards. Bryden said all three wins surprised him.

    "These were very competitive with what other national laboratories were working on, and we weren't certain they (awards committee) would go for software products. We also weren't sure they would go for open source products, as opposed to something someone has to buy -- which just has a different message. Winning told us they were willing to go where we were going."