The Genna Research Lab on campus. Photo by Joseph Chapman/The Jambar

By Joseph Chapman

Mariah DeFuria, a physical therapy doctorate student, became the first undergraduate student in Youngstown State University history to co-author a United States patent. Patent No. 10,450,205 was awarded to DeFuria and associate professor of chemistry, Douglas Genna, for their work on YCM-101 (Youngstown Crystalline Material), which removes pharmaceutical contaminants from drinking water.

Genna explained the process of patenting a new discovery.

“So the patent process is, I mean, it’s simple and complicated all at the same time. So what happens is, we have this discovery, Mariah had this discovery. And I have to make a decision at that point,” he said. “Do we simply just publish it out in the scientific literature? Or do we try to protect it first through a patent and then publish it in the scientific literature, right? Because once you publish, the scientific literature becomes part of the public domain and yours no l

The Genna Research Lab on campus. Photo by Joseph Chapman/The Jambar

“[She is] very impressive … And, you know … she could have gone to, like, basically any grad chemistry program she wanted to, but ultimately didn’t want to, and is doing great as a P.T. student, and I think she’ll be a great physical therapist,” he said.

DeFuria discussed her contribution to the patent process.

“So the first thing we had to do, we were also trying to write a manuscript for an article. So when you publish, like, a science-based paper, you have to publish your method,” she said. “So I had to write up exactly, like, the amounts I used of each material, in what order, and then all the steps of the process. So that was my contribution to the paper manuscript, and that also got published in the patent.”

DeFuria spoke fondly of her experiences as an undergraduate researcher at the Genna Lab. She said YSU offers instrumentation for undergraduate students to access when working for professors as research students.

“YSU has a lot of great instrumentation that undergraduate students have access to if they work for professors as research students. And a lot of other universities and colleges only allow their graduate students to learn and train on these equipment,” she said. “So I feel like it’s a really good idea to get involved with research at YSU. I gained a great mentor, I learned a lot of new skills [and] became a better scientist through the process.”

Timothy Wagner, acting chair of the department of chemical and biological sciences, praised the hard work of the Genna Lab which led them to receive this award.

“Just the fact that the Genna group is competing so well nationally, if not internationally, I think says a lot for their work. I mean, as I mentioned, and it’s difficult to get National Science Foundation funding anyway, these days. But, you know, in an area like that, where there’s so much going on, I think it’s even more impressive.”

Wagner said the unprecedented accomplishment gives faculty the feeling that there are no limits to what can be accomplished by the students.

“I now, you know, tell people about [this] new possibility of possibly patenting work as an undergraduate. It’s just the ultimate example of what we try to do for our students with the experiences we try to offer for them,” he said.