Nikolai Begg plays the piano and cooks dishes, like broccoli pancakes, that no one has ever heard of. He is an avid skier, and plays ice hockey and tennis. He is a licensed SCUBA diver. He is a dual citizen of the United States and France and is fluent in French. Above all else, Nikolai Begg is an inventor.
Nikolai grew up innately interested in building and creating. His first invention was an automatic fish feeder, which he built in the fifth grade. In the seventh grade, after completing a project on surgical robots, Nikolai discovered his passion for medical device engineering.
Today Nikolai is a PhD candidate in the department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has used his passion to develop a portfolio of instruments that are designed to reduce the risk in many common medical procedures such as laparoscopic surgeries, cardiac catheter insertions, and epidurals. For these inventions and more, Nikolai Begg is the recipient of the 2013 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
For Nikolai, the inventive approach starts with living the problem. He spends much of his time in hospitals, observing procedures and collaborating with top surgeons, nurses and patients to find opportunities to invent. “There are so many problems out there that no one is paying attention to,” said Nikolai. “It is easier to uncover those problems when you witness them firsthand.”
One of Nikolai’s latest inventions is designed to address a problem in common “puncture access procedures,” such as laparoscopic surgeries, in which a sharply-pointed instrument is used to create the pathway into the patient’s body. Existing instruments often plunge forward after breaking through tissue until the surgeon stops applying force, posing risk to underlying organs. Nikolai’s “puncture access” mechanism has a blade that retracts within 1/100 of a second after passing completely through skin tissue. His hope is that the technology, which is protected by two patents and has gained attention from medical device manufacturers, will one day increase the safety of these procedures.
When he is not observing procedures at local hospitals, Nikolai can be found at MIT where he earned a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2011 and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. He has been previously recognized by the Institute for his inventiveness, receiving first place in the 2012 MIT Mechanical Engineering de Florez Competition for outstanding ingenuity and creative judgment.
Nikolai also devotes himself to inspiring a passion for invention in others. He is currently a teaching assistant for courses focused on medical device design and engineering leadership, and has taught seminars for high school and middle school students. He frequently asks his professors for opportunities to engage in mentorship.
If Nikolai could tell aspiring inventors one thing, it would be that they should never stop being curious. It is curiosity that leads to what Nikolai loves most about invention: the rush that comes from doing something no one has ever done before. “No matter where I go from here, I have no choice;” says Nikolai “I have to invent.”