John Lettow ’95 (Photo: Paul Morse/Courtesy Vorbeck Materials Corp.)
Vorbeck Materials, a Maryland-based company that has developed cutting-edge applications for graphene, was established in 2006, but two of the collaborators who launched the company have a history that began in the mid-1990s in a Princeton engineering lab.
At the time, Vorbeck president John Lettow ’95 was a chemical engineering student, and Ilhan Aksay, a Princeton professor and director for the company, was advising the senior’s thesis project. A decade later, the two started working together again, this time to bring Aksay’s research out of the lab and into the marketplace. (Read more from the June 10, 2009, issue.)
Graphene, a super-thin, super-strong, and super-conductive form of graphite, has drawn plenty of interest from materials scientists, but Vorbeck was the first to launch a commercial graphene product (a conductive ink for electronics). To expand its production and sales, the company received a reported $10 million from investors in December.
Earlier this month, Vorbeck received another boost when the Department of Energy named it one of “America’s Next Top Energy Innovators.” Three companies shared the honor; Vorbeck was credited for using technology that originated in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to improve lithium-ion batteries — versatile, rechargeable batteries used in devices that range from laptops to electric cars.
In a news release, Energy Secretary Steven Chu congratulated the winning innovators and said that the contest was part of a larger effort to let startup companies “do what they do best: Create new products, new industries, and new jobs.”

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