Lemelson-MIT Prize to be awarded

$30,000 award will be won by one of three Rensselaer graduate students

Tonight—March 7—at 6:30 pm in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Auditorium, the winner of this year’s Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize will be announced. The Lemelson-MIT Prize is a $30,000 award given to an RPI senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or otherwise demonstrated remarkable inventiveness. Winners of the prize gain invaluable exposure to the science, business, and investment communities through the press around the award. This year, the three finalists are graduate students Christopher Rivet, Zepu Wang, and Fazel Yavari.

Rivet, a biomedical engineering major and native of Grand Blanc, Mich., has developed a new method for introducing drugs directly to an injury site and jump-starting the healing process. This innovation could be important in preventing the paralysis which results from spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. Rivet’s invention is a new way to

disperse nanoscopic electrospun fibers, which can prompt and guide tissue regeneration, through the use of injectable hydrogels loaded with drugs. The result? An advanced biomaterial that is able to serve as a temporary stand-in for living tissue, for example, to fill a large hole left by the removal of a tumor.

Meanwhile, materials science major Wang, from Chengdu, China, has created a new electrical component coating which will allow the transmission of higher voltages across national power infrastructures. This nanocomposite material promises to enable smarter, more reliable, and greener power systems. In addition, it could significantly reduce the frequency of power outages. High voltage direct current systems contain areas such as bushings, cable termination, and joints, that are considered to be weak spots prone to failure. Field grading materials are used to strengthen these points; Wang’s invention is a new kind of field grading material with several advantages over those commonly used today. A composite of polymers and graphene, it requires less costly nanomaterials, exhibits much better field grading effects, and has proved more durable and less susceptible to overheating.

Yavari, a mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering major from Isfahan, Iran, has designed a new sensor that detects extremely small amounts of hazardous gases. Made from a 3-D foam of graphene, the world’s thinnest material, the sensor is durable and inexpensive, and has the potential to usher in a new generation of gas detectors for use by bomb squads and policemen, as well as having applications in industrial settings. This sensor is as thick as felt and about the size of a postage stamp, yet unlike previously attempted nanomaterial sensors, works at room temperature, is considerably less expensive, and is still highly sensitive to tiny amounts of gas. It works by reading changes in the graphene foam’s conductivity due to gas particles sticking to its surface. Another benefit of the device is the ability to quickly and easily remove these particles with the application of a small electric current.

All Rensselaer seniors and graduate students are eligible to compete for the $30,000 prize. Other qualifications include: must be a full-time student; must be an individual inventor or have developed a key invention in a team environment; must be a matriculated student in the spring of the year the award is given; and must serve as an inspiration to young people through their creativity, outreach, or mentoring activities. More information can be found at the Lemelson-MIT Prize’s website: http://www.eng.rpi.edu/lemelson/index.cfm/.