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Three from MIT win Discover kudos

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Sneakers that compose, talking lights and a new technique for cancer diagnosis have been named winners or finalists of the 11th annual Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation. The three MIT innovations are among 19 announced by the magazine Monday.

Each will be featured in Discover's special July 2000 Awards issue, which will be on newsstands June 19. The honorees will also be formally acknowledged at a June 24 ceremony at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

Discover Awards are given in eight categories: aerospace, communications, computing, energy, entertainment, health, humanitarian and transportation.


Joseph Paradiso, technology director of the Things That Think group at the Media Laboratory, won in the entertainment category for "a new twist in interactive entertainment." The sneakers he developed let dancers, acrobats or athletes compose music as they move.

With 16 sensors in each sneaker, Dr. Paradiso can measure every position, pressure and movement of the foot. This information is fed wirelessly into a PC, which uses a program he wrote to turn the movements into sounds and music.


Todd Golub of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute won in the health category for "DNA Chip Cancer Diagnosis."

While doctors can diagnose cancer, the many types of malignant tumors are difficult to differentiate. With better identification, treatments could be tailored not only to work better but also to be less harmful to the patient.

Using a DNA microarray, Dr. Golub deposits RNA taken from a tumor biopsy onto thousands of probes on a small wafer of glass and then scans it with a laser, creating a DNA profile of the tissue. Using custom software to test for two subtypes of leukemia, he was able to type the cancers with 100 percent accuracy.


Steven Leeb, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was a finalist in the communications category for "talking lights" that turn ordinary light sockets into cost-effective information transmitters.

Imagine walking into a room and hearing a fluorescent light talk. Professor Leeb has achieved just that by modifying the rate at which the light flickers -- a rate faster than the eye can see -- and encoding information in that altered blink. The light could give directions, translate signs or describe museum exhibits to anyone armed with a simple decoder. His innovation could turn every light socket into an information transmitter.

The Discover Awards for Technological Innovation "honor the unsung technological heroes whose creative genius improves the quality of our everyday lives and alerts us to what lies ahead in the frontiers of human achievement and ingenuity," according to the magazine's editors.

Discover (on the web at is the country's leading general-interest science and technology magazine. Each month it reaches more than seven million people.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2000.

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