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Grad Student Wins MIT-Lemelson Prize for Inventiveness

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

On Wednesday, David H. Levy G, a graduate student studying mechanical engineering, won the second annual $30,000 Lemelson-MITStudent Prize for inventiveness.

Levy holds four patents, and has eight more pending. He is credited with several inventions, including Micro-Miniature Ergonomic Keypad, the world's smallest keypad, and Peelables, layered labels that peel off to uncover fresh ones. Peelables are now currently being test-marketed by BASF and 3M.

"We need to spread the word that inventing is fun. It's the best career I know," Levy said.

With coverage in national publications like USA Today and Wall Street Journal, the award is "more than I thought it would be," Levy said. "Winning an MITprize is turning out to be amazing."

Levy joins this year's other Lemelson-MIT Prize winners. Genetic engineers Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen were awarded the $500,000 Lemelson-MITPrize on April 11. Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the cardiac pacemaker, won the lifetime achievement award.

The Lemelson-MIT prizes were established three years ago by Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife Dorothy to reward achievements in innovation and invention. The prize and awards are part of a $6.5-million innovation and invention program funded by Lemelson at MIT.

The student award is only open to MITgraduates and undergraduates.

Problems are harder to find than solutions

"For a decade or so, I've played inventor in some way," Levy said.

Levy does not have a single approach toward inventing something. "It seems to be different methods," Levy said. "Some are just because I had the problem myself and said, `Damnit, there has to be a better way,'" he said.

Other inventions, like his miniature keypad, were started through analysis and theory. The keypad is actually two keyboards: An alphabet keypad is superimposed over the numeric keypad.

As another example, Levy once heard someone talk about a surgical technique that reattaches severed arteries together in 20 minutes. Levy improved the technique and created a method that would accomplish the same task in seconds. Sometime it's "just keeping eyes open," Levy said.

"Finding the problem is a lot harder than finding the solution," Levy said.

In 1989, Levy started TH, Inc. (pronounced "think"), a company involved in the creation and sales of intellectual property.

Even with his success in inventing, Levy plans to stay at MIT to get a doctorate in mechanical engineering. "MITis a place of opportunity," Levy said. he attended MITas an undergraduate in the mechanical engineering II-A program, an interdisciplinary major between Course II and the Department of Architecture. "Directly and indirectly, [MIT] is where I came from."

The Lemelson-MIT Prizes help raise awareness that inventing is a possible career option, Levy said. "The Lemelson-MITstudent prize not only lends credence to that endeavor but also inspires others to do the same, to pursue careers in invention."

Levy plans to invest the award money in applying for more patents and more product development.

Pioneers of biology win prize for cloning

Boyer and Cohen, the Lemelson-MIT Prize winners, invented a method of cloning genetically engineered molecules in foreign cells.

The awards were given out at an April 11 ceremony at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.

"Boyer and Cohen's ingenuity has revolutionized the way all of us live our lives," said President Charles M. Vest.

Boyer and Cohen discovered a method to introduce bacterial plasmids -- circular DNA segments that confer antibiotic resistance and other properties to many bacterial species -- into the laboratory workhorse E. coli bacteria, where large amounts of the plasmid could be grown.

They were helped by Boyer's discovery of restriction enzymes, proteins that can cut DNA in specific spots.

Last year, William J. Bolander of General Motors won the Lemelson-MITPrize for advances in automotive technology. William R. Hewlett SM '36 and David Packard, founders of the Hewlett-Packard Company, won the lifetime achievement award.