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Course II Grad Student Wins Third Annual Lemelson Prize

Long N Phan
Nathan R. Kane G, winner of this year's Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, with one of his inventions, Kane-type bellows (on the right). Kane's bellows are more compact and durable than standard bellows.

By Brett Altschul
Associate News Editor

On Tuesday, Nathan R. Kane G was announced as the winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventiveness, now in its third year.

The prize is awarded each year to an MIT senior or graduate student who develops novel new inventions or innovations. The prize was established by Jerome H. Lemelson, an inventor who currently holds over 500 patents.

Kane, a mechanical engineering student, plans to use some of the prize money to apply for patents on his inventions and to build prototypes of some of his ideas. The rest should provide him with a little financial security, he said.

Kane's inventions include a new form of superior lightweight bellows and a hydrostatic bearing for use in machine tools. Both should have important applications, he said.

"There are a lot of niche applications" for the bellows, Kane said. "I'm already working on licensing them to a company."

They should prove useful in machine tools, about 70 percent of which currently use traditional bellows to protect sensitive components, Kane said. The new design is more compact, because of its novel fold pattern.

The new bellows are also more durable, because the fold lines remain stationary, Kane said. This means that they can be built entirely out of a rigid, foldable substance, while traditional bellows must be constructed of cloth.

The bellows also have many other applications, Kane said. "For example, they could be used in hand pumps, for inflating balls," he said.

"I'm also working on two more applications with companies, but I can't talk about them, because they're just preliminary," he said. "I can say that one of them you would buy in a hardware store and one of them you would buy in a supermarket. These could be significant consumer products."

Other products are also useful

The hydrostatic bearing, which Kane co-invented along with his adviser, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alexander H. Slocum '82, also represents an important advance.

Off-the-shelf bearings currently available consist of traditional metal balls, Kane said. This causes wear on the components that does not occur when the new hydrostatic bearings are used.

"I'm looking into licensing the bearing idea as well," Kane said. Companies using machine tools that move on tracks have already expressed interest in them, he said.

Kane intends to continue working on improving the hydrostatic bearing. "It's also my thesis," he said, "so I have another year to work on it."

Not all of Kane's inventions have important applications to industry. Among his less serious inventions is a television remote control embedded in a foam-rubber football, that he invented with last year's prize winner, David H. Levy G. "It was just something we came up with in my free time," he said.

"I've done some market research, walking around malls, asking people what they think," Kane said. "Some people hate it; some people love it."

"Among football fans, people thought it was a great idea," Kane said. "It's something cute to have at a Superbowl party. You can pass it around easily, and it's difficult to lose."