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Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize Welcome Remarks
Center for Biotechnology and Interdiscipinary Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Friday, February 16, 2007

Good morning. As Dean Cramb said, it is a great day for innovation at Rensselaer, and it is a great day for the creative inventions that rise from the hearts and minds of Rensselaer students, as demonstrated by the Rensselaer-Lemelson Prize finalists who are seated here this morning.

Let us acknowledge our students for their achievements.

These students continue and extend the great Rensselaer tradition of innovation and invention that has served the world since 1824. Our mission in educating tomorrow's leaders is to celebrate discovery, and the responsible application of technology to create knowledge and global prosperity.

The vision of the Lemelson Foundation mirrors our own, because through its programs, it celebrates and supports inventors and entrepreneurs, to improve lives and to strengthen social and economic life.

What a worthy mission, which was founded on the achievements and determination of Jerome Lemelson, who was one of the most prolific American inventors. He amassed more than 550 patents in fields ranging from medical and industrial technologies to simple gadgets and toys. He had so many ideas that he slept with a notebook to record the ones that came to him during the night.

His breakthrough invention was a robot that used "machine vision," a new technology that enabled automated work using computing to analyze digitized images captured from a video camera. Since his patent application in 1954, the concept of machine vision has revolutionized the use of precision manufacturing all over the world.

Another invention that created a revolution was his magnetic tape drive mechanism, driven by the daunting task of searching — manually — the records of the United States Patent Office. Lemelson created a video filing system that used magnetic or videotape reels to record documents, with the capability to stop the frames to read on a television monitor. The mechanism to operate the tape later became the primary component of audio- and videocassette recorders. Lemelson later licensed his patent for a miniature cassette tape drive to SONY, who later incorporated it into their Walkman®.

These are but two groundbreaking inventions, from a truly remarkable man, that literally have changed the world. Jerome Lemelson had the curiosity to seek that which has never existed, and he had the drive to bring those things into existence.

As some of you may know, earlier in my career I worked as a theoretical physicist at Bell Labs. In its facility at Murray Hill, New Jersey there is a bust of its founder, Alexander Graham Bell, and etched into its base is this quote: "Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before."

It is that desire to leave the beaten track that drives those who are kindred spirits of Alexander Graham Bell and Jerome Lemelson — such as our student finalists today, and our panel of judges, individuals who seek innovation in basic and applied research in academic, government, and business settings.

It is innovation that will secure the future, and at Rensselaer, we challenge our students to apply their creativity and their experience in the classroom and in the laboratory to solve real-world problems. We say that we have an entrepreneurial atmosphere on campus, and that means that our students are free to pursue their passion. They need only to seek out opportunities, and our dedicated faculty and staff can guide them. There are really no limits to what they can achieve, if only they have the desire.

In the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, students can pursue undergraduate and graduate research experiences in biochemistry and biophysics, or in the emerging field of nanobiotechnology. They have the opportunity for research in the interdisciplinary Center for Future Energy Systems. They can have hands-on design and team-building experiences in the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory, in classes in the Inventor's Studio, and through the multidisciplinary academic major in Product Design and Innovation. And in the School of Architecture, students in any discipline now can pursue a minor in acoustics, and follow that with graduate study. Throughout the curriculum, we challenge our students to approach open-ended questions with innovative solutions.

Our faculty inspire not only our current students, but future students as well, reaching into the K-12 curriculum in partnership, for example, with the FIRST Robotics Competition. The FIRST program was created by inventor Dean Kamen and Rensselaer has been working with regional high school teams for the competition since 1992.

I would like to acknowledge some of our future leaders from the Albany High School "Falcons" team who are in the audience today. Associate Professor Paul Schoch and Larry Ruff in the Automated Manufacturing Laboratory are liaisons to the team and I thank you for your work with these young people, because they, too, celebrate discovery. I have no doubt that one day they are going to change the world.

We are going to need them, because the challenges that face the world will require the kind of collaborative research and education that lead to invention and discovery. I often talk about energy security, which is perhaps the greatest of these challenges, and it confronts every nation. True energy security requires global solutions, which, in turn, require innovation. The capacity to innovate rests solely upon a skilled human workforce. This capacity to innovate is imperative to address the other challenges facing humankind, which include human health, the environment, clean water, and food production. It is in research universities such as Rensselaer and MIT, and in the tenacity and drive of inventors, that we will resolve these challenges.

I hope that today's recipient of the inaugural Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize will be among them.

To present the Prize it is my sincere pleasure to introduce Mrs. Dorothy Lemelson, the chairman of the Lemelson Foundation.

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design in New York, Mrs. Lemelson owned and operated her own interior design firm, Dorothy Ginsberg Associates. The mother of two sons, Eric and Rob, she supported her family financially while her husband, Jerome, worked as an independent inventor from their home.

In addition to her work with the Lemelson Foundation, Mrs. Lemelson also funds and directs the Lemelson Education and Assistance Program, or LEAP, a program to catalyze improvements in public education in her community, with outreach programs that include scholarship support, grants, and special programs to provide opportunities for students to thrive and to learn.

It is my pleasure to introduce to you Mrs. Dorothy Lemelson.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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