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Grad Student Wins Lemelson Prize For Devices to Benefit Third World

By Efren Gutierrez

The Lemelson-MIT program announced Wednesday morning that Amy B. Smith G was the winner of its sixth annual $30,000 Student Prize for inventiveness and innovation. The Lemelson-MIT Program Student Team Award, a new $30,000 award co-sponsored by Unisphere Solutions Inc. acknowledging innovation in telecommunication and networking technology, was awarded to Michael H. Lim G, M. Jalal Khan G, and Thomas E. Murphy G.

Smith invents for the third world

Smith, a former member of the U.S. Peace Corps, says that she invents in order to help the way of life in third world countries. She presented two inventions at the ceremony. One was a laboratory incubator that does not require electricity.

“In some developing countries, there is no electricity to run current laboratory incubators that are used to run tests for disease, so this will make it easier for such tests to be done in rural areas,” Smith said.

The other invention that she presented was a hammer mill to grind grain into flour. “In today’s hammer mills, a screen must be used in order to separate different sized grains; however, when it breaks, a new part must be ordered from a developed country, taking many weeks. With this invention, however, instead of using a screen, the pressure forces larger grains away from the center, and are collected in a bag. No screen is necessary,” Smith said.

Smith says that one disadvantage with this mill is that it requires electricity, not usually found in rural areas of third world countries. She said, though, that she might use money from her prize to develop a new engine for the mill that uses the oil of a certain plant.

Innovations in fiber optics

Winners of the student team prize were recognized for their innovations in fiber optics and integrated optical device technology.

The Lim-Khan-Murphy team developed and fabricated an optical add/drop filter that allows more information to pass through a fiber-optic cable.

“Up to now, fiber-optic cables have been able to be used in cable systems and some internet connections, but know with this filter, the capacity of what can go through the cable is enormous. Consider a television that not only caries cable, but the Internet, a phone, and a real-life link.The possibilities are endless,” said Murphy.

Two members of the team, Lim and Murphy, already have a patent for a reconfigurable wavelength-selective optical add/drop switch.

Origin of the program

The Lemelson-MIT program was established in 1994 by independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. Its mission is to celebrate innovation and invention, and recognize role models in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, and entrepreneurship.