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Inventor sees things differently

  • Scott Turner of Palmerton sees things differently from most people. As a dyslexic, he was such a poor student that he left school after tenth grade.
    Scott Turner of Palmerton sees things differently from most people. As a dyslexic, he was such a poor student that he left school after tenth grade.
Published May 29. 2010 09:00AM

Scott Turner of Palmerton sees things differently from most people.

As a dyslexic, he was such a poor student that he left school after 10th grade.

Although his reading, writing and arithmetic skills didn't conform to the standards of his school, he went on to become an inventor, accumulating 30 or so patents during his career.

Because Turner saw things differently, he often could solve incredibly difficult problems, although people couldn't understand his solutions.

"I was failing and the school said they didn't want me," said Turner. "For my own self esteem, I got a job."

Following on his hobby of tinkering with electronics, Turner's first real job was to test printed circuit boards on the night shift at a Philco computer plant in Willow Grove, Pa.

One night, he was given an oscilloscope, a box of printed circuit boards, and an electronics drawing.

"They showed me what I had to do to test these things," Turner said. "It didn't make any sense at all. The next morning, they expected to see something done."

"I had this three-feet by four-feet drawing," he said. "I was dyslexic - it was all Greek to me. I couldn't make heads or tails of it."

"I took one of these boards and found that it was bad," he said. "I took another printed circuit board, hoping there would be something different that was wrong with it. Sure enough, the portion that was wrong with the first board was OK in the second. By following the circuit through the second board, I was able to isolate where the problem was in the first board."

Using this trial and error method, he tested all the circuit boards.

When the supervisors came to him the next morning and found that all the boards had been tested, they were incredulous.

"Their response was, you didn't do that. You are faking that. There's no way you could do that many boards. If you did two boards the first night, that would be good."

"Go ahead and check it," Turner responded.

They checked and it was as he had said, but they never quite understood how he had accomplished the feat.

Turner went to work for Kulicke and Soffa, in Willow Grove, a company making products to connect microchips to computer boards.

"When I got there, someone was scratching their head," he said. "They developed this machine and they didn't know how to wire it. I said I could do that. I designed some controls and before I knew it, I was the head of the electrical department."

He asked for a project, and at the age of 22, Turner developed a microprober to test microchip connections and was awarded his first patent.

A former customer of his, K&S products, hired him to work at United Aircraft where he soon became head of in-house equipment development for the Vector Division of United Aircraft. When the company reduced staff following a merger, Turner saw it as an opportunity to start his own business, Philtec Instrument Company.

He had been working to find a method of measuring extremely thin films.

"My first product, the Gagematic Sectioner, became the standard of measurement for the industry," Turner said. "It was sold all over the world.

"Ordinary paper is about 75 microns thick," he explained. "One micron is equal to 10,000 angstroms. This device resolved to within 10 angstroms, raising accuracy by an order of magnitude, reducing the time for a measurement from 100 minutes to 100 seconds."

When Turner visited his grandmother was in the hospital, his gaze wandered onto the intravenous drip feeding into her arm.

"I noticed that the drip rate was changing," he said. "We called in a nurse to adjust it."

He asked if there was any method available that was better than the pinch valve on the tubing. The nurse said that she did not know of any better method.

"If the doctors treating someone with a certain dosage in a certain time, it's pretty important to have a predictable flow," Turner noted. "If it runs away, too much into the veins is a problem. If it slows down, that's another problem."

Turner saw that the flow rate from the drip tube was being affected by the patient's blood pressure. After he developed a product intended to provide a constant flow of I.V. fluid regardless of changes in blood pressure, he hired two nurses to test it.

One nurse acted as a patient while the second nurse attached the prototype I.V. delivery system.

"When the nurse/patient saw an air bubble in the tube, she panicked. When her blood pressure went way high, I realized how necessary this was," Turner said. "It blew my mind."

When he presented the device to one of the largest medical equipment companies, they were not impressed. They saw no need for the product. Realizing that many people were not ready for new products, he spent the following three months assembling a marketing demonstration, which persuaded a competitor to license the patent.

Getting the patent was another challenge. The examiner a first thought it was too similar to a refrigerator ice cube maker.

"I asked the examiner, 'Can you get an ice cube maker to control flow into a vein?'"

He received the patent.

For the electronics industry, Turner developed a microscope with a screen so workers would not spend the day examining microchips while stooped over a microscope.

Turner is especially excited about his last set of inventions, which have been called an "elegant solution."

"Johns Hopkins University had developed a method to view a detached retina using a microscope," Turner explained. "To make it work, they needed a diffused light source inside the eye."

Turner was initially asked to build a machine to produce the fiberoptic cable for the light source.

"They found the light was directional, like from a flashlight," he said. "They wanted to diffuse it."

Johns Hopkins tried for over a year before asking Turner to tackle the problem. While mulling the problem, he found himself at the University of Pennsylvania's' Anthropology Museum.

"In the lobby was this giant crystal ball," Turner, thought. "I was looking at how it bent light."

He inserted a small glass ball at the end of the rod, and it diffused the light. After testing a variety of glass balls, he found one that was perfect for the application. It cost three cents a piece.

"When the doctors at Johns Hopkins saw that invention they said it was an elegant tool because the end was rounded. They displayed it at an eye surgery conventions."

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