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Graduate students win inventors competition

Left to right: Eric Wilhelm, Professor Joseph Jacobson and Colin Bulthaup at the Collegiate Inventors award ceremony
Left to right: Eric Wilhelm, Professor Joseph Jacobson and Colin Bulthaup at the Collegiate Inventors award ceremony

Media Lab graduate students Colin Bulthaup and Eric Wilhelm have won $10,000 apiece in the Collegiate Inventors Competition for developing a quick, clean and cost-effective manufacturing process for integrating circuits.

Their prize-winning invention, called Chip Fabrication by Liquid Embossing, was among five prize-winning inventions. It was developed to expand upon the set of potential applications used in semiconductor electronics, optics and biosystems. Professor Joseph M. Jacobson of the Media Lab's Nanomedia research group advised the two students.

The three received awards at a luncheon on September 8 at the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, OH, during the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Professor Jacobson received a $10,000 honorarium.

Mr. Bulthaup, a member of the Class of 1999 who is working toward the SM in electrical engineering, won the 2.70 Robotic Design Competition in 1998. He also has won the MIT Computer Architecture Design Competition, the MIT Stirling Engine Design Competition and the International Design Competition in Brazil. Mr. Bulthaup said he tries to develop simple solutions to impossible manufacturing problems in the laboratory.

Mr. Wilhelm (SB 1999) is working toward a PhD in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the Tau Beta Tau and Pi Tau Sigma engineering honor societies. An expert on the the miniaturization of complex systems, he believes that someday it will be possible to design a machine the size of an insect that is as complex as a satellite.

The contest, formerly called the BFGoodrich Collegiate Inventors Competition, recognizes and rewards innovations, discoveries and research by college and university students and their faculty advisors. It is a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Students from the University of Wisconsin, Ohio State University, the University of New Mexico and the University of California at San Diego were also honored this year.

"Our winners are extraordinarily gifted young scientists who have developed inventions that will benefit modern technology and science," said Tom Hollingsworth, director of recognition programs for the Hall of Fame. "We look forward to someday assisting the winners in the US Patent process, hoping to see them inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame."

Past MIT winners include mechanical engineering graduate student Amy Smith, whose Phase-Change Incubator took the 1999 prize, and Robert W. Chan (SB 1998), whose work on a tumor detection system using infrared imaging won the competition in 1997.

Inventions were judged on the originality and inventiveness of the technology; the completeness, workablity and articulation of the idea; as well as its potential value to society and its scope of use. The judges included mathematicians, engineers, biologists, chemists, environmentalists, physicists, computer specialists and specialists in creativity and invention.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame was established in 1973 by the US Patent and Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 4, 2000.

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