from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 3
New Analytical Device Meets Old-Line Resistance
Haber is President of Haber, Inc., of Towaco, N.J., which
manufactures a patented analytical chemistry device using
you want to sell an invention, I'd suggest scratching away at the
leading edge of established science, rather than making a quantum
leap. That kind of
development causes trouble for experts who have an investment in
the status quo.
is my sad conclusion after almost 30 years investigating a newly
discovered electrochemical phenomenon—charge-transfer—and its
application in a technique called electromolecular propulsion.
EMP, as I've called it (that's one benefit of being
first—you get to invent names) is now being put to work in all
sorts of analytical chemical applications.
of my problems originated with "expert" opinions that
EMP is merely a version of electrophoresis, the ubiquitous lab
technique in which proteins or other molecules are separated based
on their net charges.
it is exactly the difference between EMP and electrophoresis that
gives EMP the ability to work with far more chemicals—in orders
of magnitude less time. Some
EMP analyses are performed in seconds, others in minutes. Even after 45 years of commercial improvements,
electrophoresis is relatively slow—a factor which introduces
delays as well as inaccuracies.
fact, it was my quest to get rid of some of these errors that put
me in this particular "invention business" in the first
place. During the
early 1960s, I was using electrophoresis to investigate the
glycoproteins in saliva. At
the time, I'd already received a Master's in physiology and
biological science from Hunter College.
I'd begun a doctorate in biochemistry, but as this was all
night school, I had to give it up.
any rate, my predecessors at the biochemistry lab had spent seven
years trying to get consistent results from electrophoresis.
We were running each analysis for 17 hours, and when we
came in the next day, sometimes we'd find uniform results,
sometimes inexplicable ones.
began wondering whether overnight temperature fluctuations were
responsible, and my tests markedly improved when I ran them at a
stable temperature. I
developed a method to standardize the process by, among other
things, controlling long-term temperature changes.
the electrophoresis "experts" didn't understand that
such temperature variations would affect results, I began
wondering how completely they understood electrophoresis in
general. So I
reviewed the literature and noticed a number of obscure,
unexplained phenomena. I
realized that this increasingly popular tool of biochemistry was
really not the last word in the field of electrokinetics.
this time, I held a research position in a lab that was separating
proteins by electrophoresis. Electrophoresis relies upon the use
of an electric field to propel molecules of an analyte across the
substrate that supports them.
I reasoned that if the external resistance were very large
compared to the internal resistance of the substrate and
associated solutions, any change of internal resistance would be
minute in proportion to the overall resistance in the circuit, and
hence not skew the results. So
I modified the external electrical resistance of the circuitry and
produced much more uniform results.
the chair of my department learned that I'd finally stabilized the
problem that had plagued the institute for years, he told me he
"didn't like my approach," even though I'd solved the
returned to the literature and found a reference in an obscure
journal to a fellow in India who had modified electrophoresis just
as I had. That gave
me additional justification for my process modifications (as if
any were needed, since we were now producing stable, reproducible
finally published a paper demonstrating that insufficient control
of temperature and conductivity were among the primary causes of
the long and vexing reproducibility problems.
I asked myself what would happen if I modified the resistivity of
the internal system—the analyte, solvent and substrate.
I thought that the right materials might further minimize
the evaporation problem in electrophoresis.
I saw some peculiar effects by varying the chemistry within
the analytical cell. Sometimes
nothing would happen. Sometimes
I'd see substantially accelerated movement.
was my clue that something new was taking place.
then I left that job, and only returned to exploring this peculiar
effect four years later, through a desire to stay active in
science. By now, I
was operating my own business, inventing and building scientific
equipment in Manhattan, and I had no bosses to dampen my
was at this time that the problem opened up like a flower.
It wasn't that I was really understanding EMP, because
I didn't have a theoretical base for that.
But operationally, I began to learn how to use the
technique. I filed a
U.S. patent in 1970—and then my troubles really began.
examiners seemed to think all I had was an obvious improvement on
get a patent it has to be non-obvious.
After spending almost all of my money on patent attorneys,
my first claims were granted in 1976, and finally the balance of
them in 1979.
now, I've designed and built numerous types of devices based on
EMP. In November,
1992, Genetic Engineering
News featured a long and positive article on EMP.
certainly had credibility problems, but they've been substantially
reduced. In 1982, for
example, I published EMP results in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
The manuscript was sponsored by the well-known Rockefeller
University biochemist Rollin Hotchkiss.
company has just started selling a 15 kV machine, and we've seen
considerable U.S. and international interest in it.
My sales pitch for the machine is simple:
You can't do modern biomedical research without
electrophoresis, especially for complex systems, and here's a
technique that makes electrophoresis look like a slow boat to
will always be diehards who doubt that anything remains to be
discovered, and I've certainly seen scientists respond in a
bizarre manner. One
said, "I see it, but I don't believe it."
No one has seen molecules move with this kind of velocity.
when people see my device working, they generally tend to believe
it. Not all
scientists have blinders. In
general, observation comes before theory, not the reverse.
taken solace by reading how other inventors and scientists have
been mocked and ignored by the establishment.
Madame Curie, for example, couldn't get a job in the
university, even after discovering radium.
don't claim we fully understand the theoretical basis for the
principle of EMP, which baffles laboratory specialists (who tend
to be practitioners rather than theoreticians).
convinced that EMP is a vital analytical tool—one that can work
with polar (ionic) and covalent substances alike (in contrast to
electrophoresis, which is limited to polar materials).
It sets up faster, and can resolve better and more rapidly,
more important for the long term, since EMP appears to rest not on
covalent or ionic bonding, but on little-explored "charge
transfer" bonding, I expect that it will increase
understanding across the field of chemistry.
lesson do I draw from all this?
From studying the history of science, it seems apparent
that EMP has all the characteristics of an advanced development:
People initially responded by rejection.
Of course, poor ideas and products also are routinely
challenge is to be convincing that a valuable idea has value.
more radical the development, the more likely you are to be pecked
to death by the experts. Experts,
I'm afraid, are usually experts in what's already been discovered.
It's very disturbing to them when their conventional wisdom