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Lemelson program revamps prizes to inspire inventors

The Lemelson-MIT Program announced this week that it will refocus the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest cash prize given in the United States for invention, to help bring inventions from younger, midcareer researchers into use.

The program also introduced a new $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability, which will replace the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award. The new award will support individuals whose inventions enhance economic opportunities and societal well-being in developing and/or developed countries, while protecting and restoring the natural environment.

"Some of our highest priorities at MIT are to prepare the next generation of inventors whose ideas can improve the world and call attention to the need for new solutions to critical energy, environment, public health and other challenges," said MIT President Susan Hockfield. "The recognition and financial support that comes from the Lemelson-MIT Program awards and the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams invention grants for high school students are extremely important to help the United States remain at the forefront of science and technology."

In addition to these two awards, the Lemelson-MIT Program is also expanding its $30,000 Student Prize to other research universities. The Lemelson-MIT Program is providing funding and a competition framework for the $30,000 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The student prizes will recognize outstanding graduate and undergraduate students at those institutions who are pursuing groundbreaking research and innovation and have demonstrated remarkable inventiveness. In 2008, the Lemelson-MIT Program will partner with two additional universities to offer the student prize.

"It is our responsibility to show younger generations how science, technology, engineering and math -- the fundamentals of invention -- can be intellectually stimulating, financially rewarding and, most importantly, a lot of fun," said Dorothy Lemelson, chair and president of the Lemelson Foundation.

The Lemelson-MIT Program also has plans to significantly expand its Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grants initiative, which gives teams of high school students a real-world invention experience and up to $10,000 to conceive of an idea and build a prototype. During the past academic year, 29 high school teams across the country either received new or continuation grants to work on inventions ranging from a neural-directed wheelchair for paraplegics to a computer mouse that can be worn as a glove. With the help of corporate partners, MIT alumni chapters and additional outreach, the Lemelson-MIT Program intends to steadily increase the number of InvenTeams projects supported each year.

"Our culture does a wonderful job glorifying entertainers and athletes, but it often relegates to obscurity the creative people whose ideas truly make profound differences," said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program.

For more than a decade the Lemelson-MIT Program, with funding from the Lemelson Foundation, has honored the unsung heroes of science, technology and engineering, who have improved lives through invention.

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