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BY TOM MITSOFF
When you look at the liquid crystal display on your digital watch or your calculator, you’re looking at a process of aligning molecules which was invented by a man who has resided in Beavercreek for the past 27 years.
John Janning of Vindale Drive also owns patents on the orange-colored plasma displays used to show prices on many modern cash registers; the thermal printing head which allows specially designed computer printers to print “quietly” on heat-sensitive paper; and a photo cell used by the United States space program. He is also delving into the still-mysterious world of superconductivity.
Janning has received 30 patents in his career, and is currently employed as a consultant at Mead Imaging. This week, he is putting the finishing touches on an exhibition of inventions which had their origin in the Dayton area. The exhibition will be held at the University of Dayton on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Kettering Laboratory Room 232. It is free and open to the public, and is being held in conjunction with the National Engineering Aptitude Search test for high school students.
“We don’t know why, but there are more inventions per 10,000 people here (in the Dayton area) than anywhere on Earth,” Janning said. “The Dayton area is just blessed with inventive geniuses, and this exhibition will stress the creativity and technology available in the area.”
Among the inventions which have their origin in the Dayton area are the stepladder, gas mask, parachute, heart-lung machine, flip-top can, cellophane tape, parking meters, black light, fan belts, freon, “ink jet” printers and ice cube trays with ejector mechanisms.
Janning is very excited that another Dayton-area original, the first-ever space battery (the type used to send signals back from space), will be part of the exhibition.
Among his many inventions, Janning said that he is most recognized for his liquid crystal alignment invention, which made it possible to market LCD watches and calculators.
A method for aligning liquid crystals had been in existence since 1943, Janning said, but scientists weren’t able to find a way to keep the alignment effect permanent. In 1971, while working at NCR in Dayton, Janning “noticed a couple of people playing with a liquid crystal display,” and suggested a method to preserve the alignment.
“I did it on my own in one hour,” he said. His idea involved heating the crystals to a temperature of 500 degrees Centigrade, and it proved successful. He wrote an article on his discovery for Applied Physics magazine, and almost immediately he “received 50 comments from scientists around the world, congratulating me.” He then traveled to Japan to help in the licensing of the new product.
In 1978, newer and cheaper materials were discovered for use in liquid crystal displays, and they have been the prevalent materials used since. But Janning said his method of liquid crystal display is still the only one which works effectively in heavy duty, precision applications such as projects for the military.
Janning is a high school dropout, but that didn’t keep him from learning all he could about electronics and engineering. He said that as a youngster he always had “a little urge to tinker” with things, and that, in the words of Mark Twain, he “never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
He landed his job with NCR based on his performance on test scores given by the company (390 points out of a possible 400), and the fact that he had experience with transistors and pulse circuitry. He remembers that he applied for the position and was hired “at a time when they were laying off people.”
While much of his creativity has occurred in the workplace, it does not stop there. The Janning home includes a basement workshop where he works on many projects. His current passion is producing “superconductive” materials, designed to generate a magnetic field which would eliminate any resistance that electrical current faces in traveling through solids. Superconductivity would allow magnetically charged objects of enormous size to float free in the air without resistance, when perfected.
“It sure opens up a lot of doors,” Janning said of the process. “It really is a solution looking for a problem. Usually things happen the other way around.” When superconductivity is perfected, its applications will include trains which glide along air-cushioned rails and “motors to start cars that are the size of a thumb,” Janning said.
Janning’s inventions and breakthroughs have benefited both the human race and the business community, but his career has not been without its personal rewards. He was named Engineer of the Year in the Miami Valley in 1982, has received NCR’s President’s Award (which brings with it $20,000), and has been nominated for inclusion in the National Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.
Janning and his wife, Dolores, have lived in Beavercreek since 1961. They have seven children -- Larry, Tom, Richard, Kathleen, Janet, Teresa and Jacqueline -- who have all attended Beavercreek schools and graduated from Beavercreek High School.
This article appeared in the Beavercreek (Ohio) Current issue of October 26, 1988.
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