Rice University Professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden recently received the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation and then promptly gave it all away. They received the award in recognition of their efforts to develop life-saving technologies and provide low-cost options for improving health care in developing nations.
In 2006, the professors started the Beyond Traditional Borders engineering design initiative at Rice University with the goal of guiding students through the invention process and coming up with technologies that can actually be put into use. Since that time, over 3,000 students have participated in the program, inventing 58 technologies used in 24 countries.
The program doesn’t just work with students in a lab, but involves bringing them out to the areas where people most need their help through an eight-week internship program in Africa and Latin America. The hope is that by bringing students out into the field where they can see just how desperately their help is needed that they will better be able to understand the problems that need to be overcome.
The internships are also designed to foster a life-long interest in developing life-saving medical technologies, which seems to be working. Ninety percent of Beyond Traditional Borders interns are working on global health activities through their careers.
The $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation prize money is being donated to one of their existing partner hospitals in Malawi. There it will be used to renovate their neonatal ward and create a suite where technologies designed specifically for use in low-resource areas can be developed and tested.