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Madhani Wins Lemelson For New Surgical Tool

Dan Rodriguez--The Tech
Akhil J. Madhani G, winner of the 1998 MIT-Lemelson Prize, speaks at the MIT Faculty Club.

By May K. Tse
News Editor

Akhil J. Madhani G has been named the recipient of the fourth annual $30,000 Lemelson-MITStudent Prize for inventiveness.

The Black Falcon, Madhani's winning invention, is a robotic device that is intended to significantly improve non-invasive surgery. "My father's a surgeon who does minimally invasive surgery,"Madhani said, "Iput two and two together and said Why don't we do something?'"

"It's a tremendous honor to win the 1998 Lemelson-MITStudent Prize,"he said. "It's a great opportunity for people to exercise creativity and to make a contribution to society."

The device works on a "master and slave" concept. The "master" half of it is operated by the surgeon, who remotely maneuvers the "slave" half, which is inserted into a small incision in the body.

The Black Falcon is more sophisticated than the current minimally invasive surgical devices on the market in that its tip is more maneuverable, consisting of small finger-like tongs which will facilitate complex tasks like suturing and grasping tissues. Additionally, the Black Falcon is less tiring for surgeons than older hand-held, stick-like devices because its surgical arm sits on a base, and the software that runs the device is designed to filter out the slight tremors of a surgeon's hands.

The Lemelson-MITStudent Prize was created by the late Jerome H. Lemelson, a prolific inventor, to recognize creativity and inventiveness at the Institute. A committee overseen by Professor Lester C. Thurow in the Sloan School of Management selects a student each year to receive the award.

The LemelsonFoundation also awards an annual $500,000 national Lemelson-MITPrize for inventiveness resulting in significant impact to society. The winner of the $500,000 prize will be announced in New York City in April.

Winner worked for three years

The Black Falcon was developed over a three-year period of research into surgical robotics, Madhani said. It took several different models and prototypes to develop the device, which is the focus of his doctoral thesis in mechanical engineering. He hopes that the device will eventually be used for heart surgery.

"Icome from the world of business and Ihave seen the importance of innovation to make business go,"said Chairman of the Corporation Alexander V. d'Arbeloff '49, who spoke at Wednesday's awards ceremony. "We're in a much more competitive era than 20 years ago. The importance of doing new things is particularly vital,"he said.

"Idon't perceive myself as an inventor,"Madhani said. "I perceive myself as a guy who works in shop." Nevertheless, Madhani's creativity have gotten him five patents pending: two for camera devices, one for a force-reflecting glove, and another for a robotic hand that catches and tracks.

"He is an inventor and a role model. The prize will help him to get some inventions into the world,"Thurow said.

J. Kenneth Salisbury, principal research scientist in the department of mechanical engineering and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Madhani's adviser, said "he's brought such joy to our lab," Salisbury also advised Thomas H. Massie '93, the Lemelson-MITPrize winner from two years ago.

Madhani now works for Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development in Los Angeles.