3 agricultural innovators are part of 2020 National Inventors Hall of Fame class


Three of the agricultural industry’s best inventors — Sylvia Blankenship, Edward Sisler, and Frank Zybach — will join 19 of their progressive peers as part of the 2020 class inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Blankenship and Sisler co-invented 1-MCP, a compound that has become essential in preventing food waste, and increasing the year-round accessibility to fresh fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. Blankenship is a professor emerita of North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticultural Science and is a retired associate dean. Sisler, who spent much of his career as a professor and researcher at N.C. State, passed away in 2016.

Zybach invented center-pivot irrigation in the 1940s, an invention that would go on to revolutionize the U.S. ag industry. It was originally patented as the Zybach Self-Propelled Sprinkling Apparatus. Zybach grew up on a farm in Nebraska and died in 1980.

From left: Sylvia Blankenship, Edward Sisler, and Frank Zybach.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame, in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, will honor these inductees in Washington, D.C., on May 6 and 7. Joining them are other innovators, who’s contributions to society include the hard hat, the sports bra, the modern parachute, and ibuprofen.


R. Rox Anderson: Laser Dermatology: Anderson has improved lives across the world with his invention of laser dermatology treatments and procedures that are now commonly used to remove birthmarks, scars and other skin lesions.

Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler: 1-MCP for Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Freshness: Blankenship and Sisler invented 1-MCP, a compound that has become essential in preventing food waste, and increasing accessibility to fresh fruits, vegetables and cut flowers.

Dana Bookbinder, Ming-Jun Li and Pushkar Tandon: Bend-Insensitive Optical Fiber: Bookbinder, Li and Tandon invented the bend-insensitive ClearCurve optical fiber. Because it can bend without significant signal loss, ClearCurve optical fiber has reached locations previously inaccessible to optical fiber and advanced data transmission across an array of industries.

Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller, and Polly Smith: Sports Bra: Lindahl, Miller and Smith invented the sports bra, a revolutionary garment that has enabled women’s participation in athletic activities and advanced women’s health and well-being.

James McEwen: Automatic Surgical Tourniquet: McEwen invented the first microprocessor-controlled automatic surgical tourniquet system, and his innovations ensure safer outcomes in nearly 20,000 surgeries across the world each day.

Mick Mountz, Peter Wurman, and Raffaello D’Andrea: Mobile Robotic Material Handling for Order Fulfillment: Mountz, Wurman and D’Andrea invented the Kiva system, a revolutionary warehouse order fulfillment system that uses mobile robots and control software to bring inventory shelves to workers, dramatically improving all aspects of fulfillment operations.

Margaret Wu: Synthetic Lubricants: Wu advanced the field of synthetic lubricants, and she has revolutionized the way both automotive and industrial lubricants are designed and synthesized.​​​​​​​

James Abercrombie and Harry Cameron: Blowout Preventer (BOP): Abercrombie and Cameron invented the world’s first reliable blowout preventer (BOP) to successfully contain catastrophic blowouts from oil and natural gas wells. This mechanism allowed operators to close wells, control pressure during drilling operations, protect the environment and save lives.​​​​​​​

Stewart Adams and John Nicholson: Ibuprofen: Adams and Nicholson co-developed ibuprofen, which is used worldwide to safely and effectively treat pain, fever and inflammation related to conditions from headaches to arthritis.

Evelyn Berezin: Computer Systems for Business Use: An expert in logic design and data transmission, Berezin invented a computer reservations system for airlines and founded a company that developed the first computerized standalone word processor for business use.

Edward W. Bullard: Hard Hat: Bullard invented the hard hat, the first commercially available industrial head protection device. Originally designed for miners, hard hats are now used by millions of people in an array of industries.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Floyd Smith: Modern Parachute: Smith invented the modern parachute. A trapeze artist turned aviator, Smith’s invention led to the creation of the parachute industry and provided safe landings across the world, saving countless lives.

Frank Zybach: Center-Pivot Irrigation: Zybach invented the center-pivot irrigation technology that has revolutionized agricultural production not only in America’s heartland but throughout the world.

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