“Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that seem copied from science fiction
Electronic Alchemy is the ability to 3D print functional electronics. Imagine being able to 3D print a phone, electronic accessories, toys, and other gadgets. Just as Amazon changed the game for shopping, allowing for items to come to your doorstep, so would Electronic Alchemy by allowing shoppers to get products right in their home in minutes. More than just putting products in the hands of consumers quickly, Electronic Alchemy has the potential to transform the way we create things. A phone does not have to look like a phone, it could look like a pencil, or anything else.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Chance Glenn, the President and CEO of Morningbird Media Corporation and the co-inventor of Electronic Alchemy. He is a life-long innovator and entrepreneur as well as a tenured full-professor and Dean of Engineering at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama. Dr. Glenn has a mission to bring new, exciting technologies to life and to put innovative tools into the hands of creative people.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always been a science fiction fanatic. More specifically, I loved and love Star Trek. The original Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The real ones. Mr. Spock was my all-time favorite character, bar none. He was the coolest, the strongest, and the smartest person in the room, and he always had the solutions to all of the problems. I wanted to be like him. Like many scientists and engineers, I was inspired to go into the career I did because of a Star Trek influence. When I was in college I often envisioned myself walking the halls of Starfleet Academy, preparing for my assignment in deep space. I also dreamed to work with NASA with the hope that one day we would be sailing the stars. In addition, I was always one of those people to took everything apart to see how it worked. I could also fix just about anything electrical or electronic. Sometimes I didn’t even know how I fixed them, I just did. I took electronics in high school which led me, given my oldest brother’s suggestion, to study electrical engineering in college. My career in government, industry, academia, and as a technologist emerged from that origin.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I was in my third year in undergraduate school, around 1988, I “invented” the iPad. Again, inspired by Star Trek, I took notice of the pad that Captain Kirk would often sign off on. As with many of my ideas, I asked myself “how would we make this if we could?”. I proceeded to layout a design of a pixel driven pad activated and controlled by a stylus with memory storage that would allow you to access the image matrix that was created. Being young and naive I proceeded to send my drawings and descriptions to an invention company. They responded to me saying that they did not understand whether this was hardware or software and couldn’t support my idea. I did one of those “poor man’s patents” where sent a copy of the idea to myself in the mail and used the postmark as a date. Unfortunately, in the midst of all of my moving around I lost those documents. I often think about if I had a time machine and was able to see 2018 from the view point of 1988 and saw Apple’s IPad Pro, I would have believed that my invention took hold.
Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
At this moment we are developing the Electronic Alchemy system. Electronic Alchemy is the ability to 3D print functional electronics. Imagine being able to 3D print a phone, electronic accessories, toys, and other gadgets. Just as Amazon changed the game for shopping, allowing for items to come to your doorstep, so would Electronic Alchemy by allowing shoppers to get products right in their home in minutes. More than just putting products in the hands of consumers quickly, Electronic Alchemy has the potential to transform the way we create things. A phone does not have to look like a phone, it could look like a pencil, or anything else. The research and development life cycle can change dramatically through rapid prototyping. Sensors and biomedical technology can be enhanced dramatically by the creation of customized solutions. Our goal is to enable innovation by putting a tool in the hands of creative people.
How do you think this might change the world?
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As with any innovative technology there is a potential for abuse. Some may be aware of a recent story about some 3D printing guns. With our product, and other 3D printing technologies, some might decide to produce weapons and other dangerous devices. This is already possible through other means, and one might argue that by having an interactive network of users, that tracking such creations might be easier.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
This innovation was also inspired by a Star Trek idea called the replicator. This device allowed the crew to speak what they wanted, whether food, drink, or device, and it would appear. Aware that 3D printing was a well established technology, I asked myself, “If I wanted to 3D print electronics, how would I do it?”. As an electrical engineer I knew that there were a minimum six fundamental materials that we needed to be able to print. I enlisted the insight of my colleague and co-inventor, Dr. Wing Chan, and we began to work the problem. After receiving a couple of funding awards from NASA, we began making mixtures and prototyping what is now the Electronic Alchemy eForge.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
The eForge is the multi-material 3D printer that is balanced to print our proprietary material mixtures. The material mixtures are formed as filaments that feed into the printer, and printed by six individual extruder heads. We have partnered with another major software and CAD design company to utilize their drawing package to drive the printer. This will allow for massive sharing of devices among all who have their software, thus virtually creating the Electronic Alchemy Design Cauldron, our device sharing platform.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
Morningbird Media Corporation is the parent company to Electronic Alchemy. We have taken the steps to engage a marketing and media relations team to help us promote this as we approach our product launch. We’ve also engaged social media experts to help us push this outward into the digital atmosphere. However, instead of a blanket approach, we have a four-stage strategy that, if successful, would ensure that we strategically place Electronic Alchemy into consumer psyche. Firstly, we look to put the eForge, the Design Cauldron, and material filaments into the hands of creative people in schools, universities, and hobby organizations in order to let them produce and share their innovations. Secondly, we will introduce the Electronic Alchemy system to government laboratories and research organizations to help them to change the dynamics of the research and development cycle, shortening the time it takes to create prototypes and devices for testing and experimentation. Thirdly, we will introduce the eForge to private industry nationally and internationally. Finally, we will launch our product to the general consumer public worldwide. A series of devices will be made available for consumer download and for printing through the Design Cauldron sharing portal. Users will be able to print directly, modify, and share the devices that they find in there.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to go to my grandmother, Henri Kegler, as someone who was responsible for inspiring me to build my career as it is now. The first reason is that she demanded and expected our best, and she expected for us to be educated. We grew up poor in a southern Alabama town only living on her social security checks. However, all eight of the brothers and sisters who grew up together, with me being the youngest, attended college. It was expected that we would. It was expected that we did our best in school and conduct ourselves in a way that represented our family name while we were there. The second reason was that she made be believe that I could do anything I set my mind to do. Being one of those “jack of all trades” type of people, I tried, and was good, at a lot of different things. However, whatever I decided I wanted to do with my life she told me that she knew I could accomplish it. For a young Black man in the society I grew up in, this was an important source of encouragement, even while living in the shadows of older brothers and sisters. I was always driven to overcome, and to be better than anyone else around me. I owe a lot of that drive to her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As an educator and as a Dean, I am in an ideal position to do good for a large number of people. Having spent now over fifteen years in academia and higher education, I have had the opportunity to interact with hundreds, and impact thousands of students. As it was for me as I came through college, I know that sometimes those single, simple gestures from a professor can make the difference between success and failure of a educational and professional career. Dr. Kirkpatrick at Alabama A&M University was one of the first people to make me feel like I could be great in science and math. Dr. Destler at the University of Maryland saw beyond the papers and tests and saw something special in me that he teased out over time. Dr. Westgate at the the Johns Hopkins University helped me believe that I could be a deep thinker and could contribute something meaningful to science and engineering. It is because of these interactions that I try to take some extra time to talk with students and encourage them to be special themselves. These, among all things, are the best actions of good that a person can take. To encourage others. The world can only be made better by perpetuating good through our interactions with each other.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
If there were five things things that I wish someone had told me before I started it would be this:
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to see the world, the planet Earth, move beyond petty divisions and reach beyond our current limitations. I believe that there is so much more that we can know, and so much more we can do within this great big universe. To get there, we need to unleash creativity. I have always believed that human beings can do anything. We are limited only by our own imagination. In order for creativity to be unleashed we must first inspire it. Most young minds are ready to be molded and often are by what they experience around them. What if children, all over the world, were free to dream and free to make those dreams become reality. When I was young I dreamed about creating technology that would take us to the stars and beyond. In some respects I am living that dream now. I did not grow up under the most ideal of circumstances, but I wanted to be successful and I knew what path I wanted to take. I’m sure this sounds kind of “pie in the sky”, but it’s really not. As humanity, we can choose to be greater, to be better, to think more about the future, to consider the possibilities, instead of squabbling about our immediate wants. Inspiring the next generation to be better than the present one is true responsibility. Nothing can be more inspiring than giving them a vision and allowing them to create. Then, they can build a future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quotation is: “Tomorrow can always be better than today if you build it.” This has guided my life. As an eternal optimist, I always believe that things will get better. But, we have to participate in life. We have to try to shape our own futures, and not let others, whether it’s business, government, or religion, shape it for us.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
If I had 60 seconds with a VC I would simply say, “Electronic Alchemy is revolutionary and we own the intellectual property. You can be a part of the future or not. Let me tell you how you can.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.