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D-Lab’s Amy Smith receives the 2011 Olympus Innovation Award

Amy Smith drilling wells in Ghana
Amy Smith drilling wells in Ghana

Amy Smith ’84, SM ’95, ENG ’95, founder of MIT’s D-Lab and a senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has received the 2011 Olympus Innovation Award. The Innovation Award recognizes faculty who foster innovative thinking among students through inventive teaching methods, projects and case studies. Smith was recognized for her conceptualization and creation of the D-Lab program.

Since Smith founded D-Lab in the early 2000s, the original three D-Lab classes — Development, Design and Dissemination — have expanded to a suite of classes focused on the creation of appropriate technologies to solve problems in developing countries. All the classes incorporate an underlying philosophy of working with local communities throughout the world to address their basic needs through small-scale, sustainable solutions. Fieldwork is an essential component of this approach. This year, D-Lab is executing projects in 20 countries with more than 300 students.

The Innovation Awards program, which is sponsored by Olympus in partnership with the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), cited the many innovative projects that have come out of the D-Lab program including a lever-based wheelchair that is being scaled in India for its anticipated impact for the disabled, a process to make charcoal out of agricultural waste using an oil drum and readily available starch, and a practical, economical hand-held corn sheller to quickly and easily remove corn kernels from the ear.

Smith continues to be recognized for her leadership in the field of appropriate technology. In 2010, she was named one of the top 100 “World’s Most Influential People” by Time magazine; in 2008, she received a Breakthrough Award for "life-changing innovations" by Popular Mechanics magazine; and in 2004, she was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her “life-enhancing solutions and labor-saving technologies.”

Smith received her Innovation Award last week at NCIIA’s 15th Annual Conference in Alexandria, Va.

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