Washington, DC--If you want to encourage young people to seek careers in science and engineering, create role models, say the experts. Jerome H. Lemelson established the Lemelson-MIT Awards at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA) for that exact purpose. At the Smithsonian American History Museum in April, MIT recognized two prominent engineers for their achievements in invention and innovation, calling the nation's attention to two excellent role models.
Jacob Rabinow received the Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, Rabinow stressed the importance of new ideas, the courage to look ridiculous and try strange combinations. "I challenge anyone to show me the name of a camera not made in Japan. Same is true for engines. We need innovation," Rabinow stressed. "Invention is an art form. It will prosper if society loves it. It will wither if society does not love it. Then society will become a supplier not of good products, but of cheap labor."
He should know. He's been an inventor since the age of eight. In his 80-year career, Rabinow earned 229 patents for military, industrial, computer, and electrical devices from guided missile systems to wristwatches to the first flexible computer disc. U.S. Post Office workers still use his mail sorter.
An immigrant, Rabinow was determined to overcome the notion that anyone of Jewish origin would not find employment in engineering. He started the Rabinow Engineering Company, an engineering consultant firm that served both industry and the U.S. government.
Robert Langer won the $500,000 prize. An active member in all three U.S. National Academies--Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine--Langer holds 310 patents in the fields of biomedical and chemical engineering, biomaterials, and controlled drug delivery (see related story).
After the ceremony, the Lemelson family and MIT Awards Committee paid a special tribute to the man who started the program, along with his wife Dorothy. Lemelson (1923-1997), independent inventor and philanthropist, held 500 patents himself for inventions such as the camcorder, the VCR, facsimile transmission, and the magnetic tape drive mechanism used in Sony's Walkman. After receiving his first patent in 1955, he averaged one a month for 41 years. Including those still pending, Lemelson is second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents received.