Amy Smith, RPCV Botswana, Receives $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Invention and Innovation

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Amy Smith, RPCV Botswana, Receives $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Invention and Innovation

2000 LEMELSON-MIT STUDENT PRIZE WINNER NAMED MIT Student Receives $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Invention and Innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (February 9, 2000) -- The Lemelson-MIT Program announced today that Lexington, Massachusetts native Amy Smith has been selected as the recipient of its sixth annual $30,000 Student Prize for inventiveness. The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize judging panel selected Amy Smith, an MIT graduate student, because of her inspiring dedication to applying her mechanical engineering design skills to invent devices with appropriate technologies for use in developing countries.

At the same awards ceremony on the MIT campus today, a separate $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Team Prize - sponsored by Unisphere Solutions, Inc. and recognizing innovativeness in telecommunications and networking technologies - was given to three MIT students for their fabrication and design research in integrated optical devices. Methodology developed by the winning team of Michael Lim, Jalal Khan and Thomas Murphy should pave the way for breakthroughs in the high-capacity telecommunications transmission industry.

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is awarded to an MIT student who demonstrates remarkable inventiveness and who serves as an inspiring science and technology role model for young Americans. "While technology is often seen as increasing the 'digital divide,' technology is also needed to decrease that divide. Amy Smith is the perfect example of an inventor-innovator who's using technology to close that gap," Lester C. Thurow, Chairman of the Lemelson-MIT Awards Board said. "Her dedication to appropriate technologies invention is refreshing - Amy's mechanical designs could benefit thousands."

"Invention is a challenge to utilize the design skills I have learned and apply them to situations where they can be put to good use," Smith says. One of her remarkable inventions is a grain mill adapted for rural areas of developing countries, where women traditionally spend up to four hours a day grinding grain by hand. Smith notes that "while this task could be done in about a minute using a motorized hammermill, these devices often break down and the screen used to collect the flour is expensive to replace since it can't be built locally." She designed and built this new screenless hammermill and tested it in Senegal. The mill was created at one-fourth the cost of conventional mills, used less energy and produced a superior product.

She has also invented a laboratory incubator that does not require electricity, using a novel approach to temperature maintenance that utilizes a phase-change material instead of relying upon delicate instruments like thermostats or electronic controls.

"Necessity is the mother of invention, but it has often struck me that the most needy are often the least empowered to invent," Amy Smith noted recently. To that end, she is participating in a project to redesign medical laboratory equipment for use in remote clinics and field laboratories in developing countries.

Smith has a tireless commitment to innovation in the field of international health. She is working on a new clamp for regulating the flow of intravenous fluids, which will be especially critical during epidemic outbreaks in rural areas, enabling nurses to control the flow rate quickly and reliably and thereby serve more patients. Using the same phase-change technology that she applied for her laboratory incubator, she has invented a microscope slide warmer to prepare the slides for rapid tuberculosis diagnosis.

Smith plans to finish her Master's in the Technology and Policy Program, focusing on technology transfer to developing countries, in 2001. She earned her Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from MIT (1984) before spending four years in Botswana with the U.S. Peace Corps - double the standard Peace Corps assignment. Upon returning from Botswana, Smith earned a Master's in Mechanical Engineering from MIT (1995). Click here for more information on Amy Smith.

Previous student prize winners include 1999 winner Daniel DiLorenzo, who develops devices to restore function to patients with neurological damage or disease;1998 winner Akhil Madhani, inventor of robotic surgical devices; winner Nathan Kane, who licensed his bellows designs to two companies; 1996 winner, David Levy, who founded his own company, TH, Inc. ("think"), to market and develop inventions such as the world's smallest keyboard, and the 1995 (and first) Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Thomas Massie, who founded SensAble Devices to market his computer Haptic interface.

About the Lemelson-MIT Program Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The program celebrates inspirational role models in the fields of science, engineering, medicine and entrepreneurship, in the hope of encouraging future generations to follow their example. For more information on the program's awards and outreach activities, please click here or contact Kristin Joyce, Communications Officer, at 617-258-0632.

Photo credit: Mark Ostow

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