"Engineering Change, Changing Engineering"
Amy Smith, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Engineers for a Sustainable World @ Caltech
Thursday November 10, 2005

"Amy Smith is an inventor and teacher dedicated to developing technologies that optimize limited resources and solve seemingly intractable problems in developing countries. She was a 2004 MacArthur Fellow. As a mechanical engineer, she creates life-enhancing solutions and labor-saving technologies for people at the far end of dirt roads in the world’s most remote societies, people facing crises that erupt in health clinics with no electricity and in villages with no clean water. Striking in their simplicity and effectiveness, her inventions include grain-grinding hammer mills, water-purification devices, and field incubators for biologic testing, each reflecting her inordinate creativity and ingenuity. Determined to expand her reach, she is systematically inspiring engineering students to follow her lead and develop solutions to the problems that plague huge segments of the world’s population."

Kathy's sketch-portrait of Amy Smith during her lecture at Caltech

Amy Smith, recipient of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 2000, was announced on September 28 as a winner of a 2004 MacArthur Fellowship or “genius” grant. The recipients of these $500,000, no-strings attached awards are nominated, evaluated and selected through a confidential process. No one can apply for the award and candidates do not participate in any interviews.

The MacArthur award will allow Smith more funding and flexibility for her current projects. As a mechanical engineer and inventor focused on technology-based life-enhancing solutions for developing countries, Smith’s previous inventions include a grain-grinding hammer mill, water-purification device, and field incubators for biologic testing.

This award will also help Smith to establish greater connection with the people in the countries where she works who often have ideas for projects, but no resources to make those projects a reality. In an interview with the MIT News Office Smith says, "Now I’m in the position where I can help with those resources, which is pretty cool."

The first female Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner, Smith received a B.S. (1984) and a M.S. (1995) in mechanical engineering from MIT. She also won the National Inventor's Hall of Fame Collegiate Inventors Competition (1999). In 2001 Smith helped start the MIT IDEAS Competition (Innovation, Development, Enterprise, Action, Service) to promote student innovation and inventiveness for community needs. As an instructor at MIT, Smith combines her interests in teaching, invention, and international development into a class called D-Lab.

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