April 23, 2019

Students around the country recognized for revolutionary solutions to women’s health, food waste, transportation systems, and improving mobility and communication for people with disabilities.

Following a nationwide search for the most inventive college students, the Lemelson-MIT Program today announced the winners of the 2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The prize recognizes young inventors who have dedicated themselves to solving global problems. This year’s inventions range from innovative, low-cost cancer screening tools to an affordable clean water system, which ensures homes and families have clean, safe water. 

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is supported by The Lemelson Foundation, and serves as a catalyst for young inventors in the fields of healthcare, transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer devices. The Program awarded a total of $90,000 in prizes to three undergraduate teams and four individual graduate student inventors, selected from a large and highly competitive pool of applicants from across the United States. Students were selected based on a variety of factors including: the overall inventiveness of their work, the invention’s potential for commercialization or adoption, and youth mentorship experience.

“We are inspired by the revolutionary work of this year’s winners. All of the inventions are designed with the intention of making the world a better place,” said faculty director of the Lemelson-MIT Program and Associate Dean of Innovation at MIT’s School of Engineering, Prof. Michael J. Cima. “We are proud of how dedicated these young inventors are to combatting real-world problems.”

“We congratulate this year’s winners for their outstanding work tackling significant challenges in order to improve lives both in the United States and around the world,” said Carol Dahl, executive director at The Lemelson Foundation. “This diverse group of students drives home the opportunity that exists to inspire young minds across the country to create the essential inventions of today and tomorrow.”

2019 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winners 

The “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: Rewarding technology-based inventions that involve healthcare.

The majority of cervical cancer-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries due to the lack of affordable screening technology. Mercy invented the Callascope, a high quality, low-cost, speculum-free device for cervical cancer screening and prevention. The device can be easily inserted into the vagina, like a tampon, either by a physician or for self-imaging/screening. It is fitted with a consumer-grade light source and camera to take images of the cervix from inside the body. The Callascope provides a cost-effective option for cervical cancer screenings in low-resource settings with limited available technologies. It can be connected to a mobile phone, tablet or computer, and is coupled with an algorithm that uses machine learning to classify cervix images as normal or pre-cancerous.

A reusable, affordable, and contamination-free core needle breast biopsy device that is designed to support earlier breast cancer detection in low-resource settings. The reusable devices currently available on the market are expensive and require a 24-hour cleaning process. Ithemba’s novel device is not only affordable, but can also be sterilized instantly with a bleach wipe. With Ithemba’s device, performing breast biopsies will be significantly less expensive for hospitals and physicians in low-resource settings, and much safer for their patients.

The “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: Rewarding technology-based inventions that involve food/water and agriculture.

Julie’s company, Aclarity LLC, offers a scalable electrochemical water purification technology marketed initially for residential use that uses low amounts of electricity to zap contaminants in water through advanced oxidation reactions. The technology disinfects pathogens, destroys organic contaminants, removes metals, and normalizes pH to produce truly clean and safe water. It reduces maintenance, uses low energy and purifies water faster and more efficiently than conventional treatment methods in the U.S. and globally.

A compact and scalable food-waste-to-food-and-fuel system that converts food waste from dining halls and restaurants into both nutrient-rich organic fertilizer that can be used to grow more food, as well as electricity that is generated from biogas. Right now, 40% of all food produced is wasted and dumped into landfills. When food decomposes in a landfill it generates methane, which is released into the atmosphere. Currently, food waste is responsible for 8% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions globally. The BioEnergy Project’s invention is a cyclical system that can tackle the environmental and agricultural concerns of food insecurity, the need for renewable energy sources, and addresses climate change by capturing and utilizing a methane source that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere from landfills.

The “Move it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: Rewarding technology-based inventions that involve transportation and mobility.

An internal monitoring system for High Temperature Superconductors (HTS), consisting of a sensing system to detect local, incipient failures in the HTS wire that generates the magnetic field needed to operate electric motors or Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) trains. The sensing system is based on optical fibers embedded into superconducting wires that are able to prevent failure of the superconductor. This invention allows for reliable operation of HTS systems, thereby bringing HTS materials and systems to fruition via applications such as electric motors for carbon-free ships and aircrafts, carbon-free, high-speed MagLev trains, and nuclear fusion reactors for power generation.

A wireless device that opens disabled-accessible doors when a user approaches with the Portal smartphone application. A small wireless receiver is installed on the door and the user’s Portal app uses proximity to tell the door when to open upon approach. In addition to benefitting people with mobility-related disabilities, the system also enables facilities managers to track door usage data in order to maintain accessibility.

The “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: Rewarding technology-based inventions that involve consumer devices.

The headset-like device, AlterEgo, is a sensory and auditory feedback system, which uses neuromuscular signals from the brain’s speech system to extract speech. When we talk to ourselves internally, our brain transmits electrical signals to the vocal cords and internal muscles involved in speech production. With AlterEgo, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) agent is able to make sense of these signals and prepare a response. The user can hear the AI agent’s responses through vibrations in the skull and inner ear, thus making the process entirely internal. The AI agent can also send the information to a computer, to help an individual with a speech disability communicate in real-time.

Students interested in applying for the 2020 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize can find more information here. The 2020 Student Prize application will open in May 2019.