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Bolander Receives 1st Lemelson Prize

By David D. Hsu
Associate News Editor

The first $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize was awarded to William J. Bolander of General Motors for his advances in automotive technology. William R. Hewlett and David Packard, founders of the Hewlett-Packard Company, were awarded with lifetime achievement awards.

The awards were given out at a March 29 ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The Lemelson-MIT Prize and the lifetime achievement awards were established last year by Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife Dorothy to reward achievements in innovation and invention, Lemelson said last year. The prize and awards are part of a $6.5 million innovation and invention program at MIT funded by Lemelson.

As an automotive engineer with GM's Powertrain division, Bolander was "instrumental in developing the first Saturn" and the Cadillac Northstar system, said Annemarie Amparo, director of the Lemelson-MIT program. He helped invent Saturn's award-winning traction control system, which maintains traction cost-effective.

The Northstar system actually originated in Bolander's undergraduate thesis at GMI Management and Engineering Institute in Flint, Michigan. He proposed reducing the number of cylinders in an engine when coolant is lost. This would allow the automobile to "limp home" without causing engine damage.

"I often think ideas are the easiest part," Bolander said. "Finding the solutions are the fun part for me."

Despite holding nine U.S. patents for automotive innovations, "I've never felt things I did and the accomplishments I've made were all my own," Bolander said. "It has always been the result of working with a talented group of people."

At the awards ceremony, former dean of the Sloan School of Management Lester C. Thurow said, "our winner tonight proved that in the language of MIT, The Machine That Changed the World' could be change for the better."

Stanford University graduates Hewlett and Packard started Hewlett-Packard in Packard's garage with $538. Today HP is a $25 billion corporation credited with advances including the first hand-held scientific calculator and the first desktop mainframe computer.

"Dave [Packard] and I recognized from the start that innovation was the lifeblood of our company," Hewlett said. "We tried to develop an atmosphere that encouraged creativity and innovation."

"Bolander, Hewlett, and Packard are truly American heroes, and I'm proud to help recognize their efforts," Lemelson said.

Rewarding star innovators'

In addition to establishing the awards, the Lemelson-MIT program endows a professorship, graduate research fellowships, and undergraduate awards. Only MIT students are eligible for the graduate and undergraduate awards.

President Charles M. Vest said at the ceremony, "We hope that this major recognition and attendant press attention will, over time, raise awareness of invention and innovation as a creative, enjoyable and important pursuit."

Two graduate research fellowships were awarded last January. The first went to Stefan H. Thomke MS '93, and the second went to Benjamin M. Linder G.

Nominations for the undergraduate award will be sent to faculty later this month. The award will be announced in early June.

In addition to the student awards, MIT also benefits from the Lemleson-MIT Prize because "having the Institute's name associated with a major prize for invention, innovation, and technology assists us in pointing out the importance of these activities and their impact on people's lives," Vest said.