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Graduate student David Levy, whose inventive genius has ranged from a device to prevent the theft of bicycle seats to an improved cardiovascular splicing method, has been named the recipient of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
Mr. Levy, who holds four patents and has eight more pending, received the prize at a May 1 luncheon at the Faculty Club from Dr. Lester C. Thurow, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Economics. Professor Thurow, of the Sloan School of Management, chairs the Lemelson-MIT Prize Board, which oversees the selection process.
The prize program was established by Jerome H. Lemelson. With more than 500 US patents to his credit, he is the nation's most prolific living inventor.
"Young inventors such as David are the reasons why I established the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program and the Lemelson National Program," Mr. Lemelson said in a statement. "Young people represent an untapped resource of creative and entrepreneurial energy. We need to inspire them to develop new products and socially responsible, marketable solutions to contemporary dilemmas."
Mr. Levy did his undergraduate work at MIT and was a UROP student in 1986 when he met Professor Alexander H. Slocum of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, one of those who recommended Mr. Levy for the prize. He did his master's thesis with Dr. Slocum, the Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Associate Professor, then took a position with Apple. Recently, Professor Slocum said in his remarks at the luncheon, Mr. Levy decided to return to MIT and begin work on his PhD. His thesis subject, Professor Slocum said, is "on how to invent inventors to create a better world."
Myron Spector, a professor at Harvard Medical School, also recommended Mr. Levy for the prize. He told of meeting the Lemelson-MIT Prize winner only recently when Mr. Levy enrolled in an MIT subject on the design of medical devices and implants, co-taught by Dr. Spector and Professor Ioannis V. Yannas, the developer of artificial skin. Dr. Spector said that in his more than 20 years of involvement in the design, research and development of medical devices, "I have never encountered an individual more inventive than David Levy. That he has not yet completed his graduate education is all the more remarkable to me."
Mr. Levy's "talent for inventiveness" is marked by "simplicity/refinement of design, innovation and good sense," Dr. Spector said. "After reading one of David's patents, the only thing that I can think of is, how could there be any other solution?"
Among Mr. Levy's inventions: Peelables, a label whose many faces allow the written-on label to be peeled away, exposing a fresh surface; the Wedgie, a thief-thwarting device whose wedges prevent a bicycle seat from being removed unless the bike is turned upside-down, which is impossible if it is locked to a pole or stand; the Micro-Miniature Ergonomic Keypad, a credit-card-size keypad with the alphabet, a number pad and eight function keys; and the Improved Cardiovascular Splicing Method, in which severed blood vessels are connected with biocompatible fittings, a method expected to take about a minute, compared with the 20 minutes required by current surgical procedures.
The Lemelson National Program awards a $500,000 prize annually for American invention and innovation. This year's national award, announced in April, was shared by genetic engineers Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen. Their discovery of a method for cloning genetically engineered molecules in foreign cells paved the way for today's multibillion-dollar biotechnology industry.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 8, 1996.