American Physical Society

Steve Gass - Inventor and Patent Attorney

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Job Info


Position Type:
Product Development

Job skills:
Complex problem solving
Synthesizing information
Mathematical skills
Knowledge of physics principles
Data analysis
Team work
Business Management

Steve Gass' Job:
Steve Gass is an armature woodworker, a field that includes the ever-present possibility of losing a finger or hand to a high powered saw. One day while working, he wondered how fast a saw would have to stop in order to prevent serious injury. Using his physics training, he figured out that it would take less than 1/100th of a second. He then figured out a way to make it stop.

Gass engineered a system that would distinguish between the electrical capacitance of wood and human flesh. If the capacitance resembled human flesh, it would stop immediately. After making a prototype, he tested it on a hot dog, and then his own finger.

"I can tell you that to touch a spinning saw blade goes against every instinct that you would have, " he said. "When I was trying to reach my finger out to gently touch the edge of the blade, the muscles in my forearm were just spasming wanting to pull my fingers back. It was so hard." He walked away with a small cut.

He currently manufactures the SawStop system, and is meeting with tool manufacturers to have it placed within their tools.

My Previous Jobs:
Gass is also a Patent Attorney, helping inventors patent their ideas so no one could copy them. "One of the things I enjoyed about the practice was the breadth of technology I got to be exposed to..."

Career Facts

Employer Type:

Current Location:
Tualatin, OR

Physics Degree:

Educational Information

Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California in San Diego

More about Steve Gass

Direct link to Steve Gass' profile:

Steve Gass


Gass grew up on a horse ranch in the countryside of eastern Oregon. He began woodworking at age 4 and never stopped. "I just love to build things, " he said. He was also always interested in how things worked, and this interest led him to study physics. He went to college at Oregon State University, and got a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at San Diego, studying how proteins fold. As his graduation neared, he realized that he did not want a career in academic research, where he would have to spend much of his time writing grants. "I loved the science, but it didn't seem like a very good lifestyle. So I thought, 'well, what else can I do with my degree in physics?', " he said. He went to law school at the University of California at Berkeley, then became a patent attorney.

As a patent attorney, Gass worked with inventors and companies to --patent their inventions and prevent them from being copied.  Of the inventions he helped to patent, his favorite was a screw that doctors used to hold broken bones together. While working as an attorney, Gass continued his woodworking projects, building a 4, 000 square foot workshop behind his house. "When I was a little kid, I liked playing with Legos, " he said. "I just never quit."