The 2011 Lemelson prizes awarded last week help us envision a bright future for innovation
What do the following things have in common?
Lab mice that act more human
On-chip microscopy imaging
Automatic gear shifting for wheel chairs
Better mine and IED detection
They each won a 2011 Lemelson prize. And if you’re worried about the future of innovation and engineering, you can stop now. Not only did each winner show astonishing creativity and technical innovation, many are building their own businesses as we speak.
MIT’s Alice A. Chen (below) won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT prize for her work in “humanizing” mice to improve animal studies of drug interactions. According to the MIT announcement:
...because of stark differences between animal and human liver activity, pre-clinical animal screens commonly under-report human toxicities. According to Chen, the mouse “becomes a miniature patient with a tissue-engineered liver that behaves like a human’s in many ways,” including how the liver breaks down drugs and responds to toxic drug products. Chen’s hope is that her humanized mouse model will ultimately lead to a safer, less expensive and more efficient path for drug testing.
The winner of the Lemelson-MIT CalTech award ($30,000),
Guoan Zheng (right), developed an on-chip microscopy imaging technology with many potential applications, including improved diagnostics for malaria and other blood-borne diseases in the developing world. Zheng says it’s basically a $1.50 microscope.
According to the CalTech announcement, Zheng, a graduate EE student:
...demonstrated his strong interest in the integration of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology with image processing, computer vision, microfluidics, and nanotechnology for the design of next-generation low-cost biomedical imaging and sensing devices. His three inventions are all aimed at improving disease diagnostics in the developing world.
Wendian “Leo” Shi, another EE graduate student at CalTech, won a $10,000 finalist price for his work developing the "µCyto," a portable lab-on-a-chip system for determining white blood cell counts for point-of-care diagnostics.
The Lemelson-MIT Illinois winner, Scott Daigle is helping make wheelchair operators’ lives easier by building an automatic gear-shifting system for wheel chairs through his company, IntelliWheels, Inc.
Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize winner Benjamin Clough (below) won for his work with terahertz-enhanced acoustics. According to the announcement, Clough:
...developed a novel method for eavesdropping on terahertz information hidden in invisible plasma acoustic bursts. The doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has demonstrated a promising technique that employs sound waves to boost the distance from which researchers can use powerful terahertz technology to remotely detect hidden explosives, chemicals, and other dangerous materials.
Here's a video of Clough's innovation:
This stuff is amazing. Were you and colleagues doing this back in the day when you were in school? Can you believe how far engineering curricula has come in such a short time?