Lemelson-MIT Illinois award recognizes student innovation with affordable prosthetic

3/3/2010 11:56:00 AM

Jonathan Naber, an inspiring, pioneering student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the fourth annual winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize, funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program. This prize at Illinois encourages the creation of new, sustainable solutions to real world problems.

"This awards program serves to remind us that our lives are greatly improved by the devices and processes, technological advances, and medical breakthroughs that result from the highly creative process of the inventor," explained Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering. "The student prize has a particular purpose: to 'raise the stature of inventors and to inspire invention among young people.' And while the $30,000 prize makes it easier to move an idea from vision to reality, what we are really celebrating today is: the talent of Illinois students."

Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize winner Jonathan Naber impressed the audience with his passionate presentation about low-cost prosthetics.
Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize winner Jonathan Naber impressed the audience with his passionate presentation about low-cost prosthetics.
Naber, a junior in the College of Engineering, has developed an affordable prosthetic arm to serve populations in underdeveloped countries. Guided by his passion for helping those less fortunate, Naber and the Illini Prosthetics Team, used low-cost materials to create an arm that is extremely functional, durable and easily manufactured. Naber was both surprised and grateful for being chosen from among several finalists for this year's Illinois' award.

“After getting over the disbelief, I was completely ecstatic. When I realized that I had won, I knew that my vision was indeed going to happen and that there were people who believed in the cause I am working toward," Naber remarked. "This was the breakthrough I needed and I got it. I'm going to take full advantage of it.”

While he started out designing a prosthetic arm that was realistic, and had great potential to function with an electronic control system, Naber decided to refocus his efforts on using bare essential materials to create an arm that any person could assemble. Essentially, what he and his team will bring to market is a prosthetic arm kit comprised of pre-assembled parts accompanied by a page of simple instructions.

In his research, Naber noted that there are currently 25 million amputees around the world; 80% of whom have no access to prosthetic replacements. There are two million people without one or both of their arms in the developing world alone. The few prosthetic arms supplied to this population cost thousands of dollars and the design has barely changed since the American Civil War. The motivation for his product from the beginning has been to provide the amputees of this world with inexpensive, functional arms and new hope for the future.

For the next development stage, Naber will travel to Guatemala this summer to field-test the prototype at a prosthetics clinic. During his senior year at Illinois, Naber hopes to patent his idea and finalize a business plan to start a production facility in a developing east African nation. This facility will supply prosthetic arms to amputee populations of Sierra Leone and Liberia. His goal in doing this is to put people to work in developing countries and help their economies while providing arms for amputees.

"My dream is that one day every person around the world will have two functional arms, and I truly believe that my low-cost prosthetic arm is going to play a major role in that change," Naber said. Naber is among the four $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize winners for 2010.

This year's finalists (l to r) Kira Barton, Scott Daigle, Stephen Diebold, and Jonathan Naber.
This year's finalists (l to r) Kira Barton, Scott Daigle, Stephen Diebold, and Jonathan Naber.
In addition to Naber, the finalists for this year’s Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize included: Kira Barton, graduate student in mechanical engineering; Scott Daigle, graduate student in mechanical engineering; and Stephen Diebold, senior in industrial design. (For information on their inventions/innovations, see the previous article about the finalists.)

“This year’s winners from the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shine light on the significance of collegiate invention," stated  Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. "They have the ability to transform seemingly implausible ideas into reality and are the true entrepreneurial leaders of their generation.”

Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prizes
In addition to Naber’s pioneering work, the other winners of the annual Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize were announced today at their respective universities:

• Lemelson-MIT Caltech Student Prize winner Heather Agnew contributed to the development of an innovative technique that creates inexpensive, stable, highly reliable biochemical compounds that have the potential to replace antibodies used in many standard diagnostic tests.

• Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Erez Lieberman-Aiden demonstrated creativity and innovation across several disciplines, most recently with his invention of “Hi-C”, a three-dimensional genome sequencing method that will enable an entirely new understanding of cell state, genetic regulation and disease.

• Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize winner Javad Rafiee developed a new method for manufacturing and using graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged like a nanoscale chain-link fence, to store hydrogen at room temperature – opening the door to better and safer on-board fuel storage systems for hydrogen vehicles.

About the Lemelson-MIT Program
The Lemelson-MIT Program recognizes the outstanding inventors and innovators transforming our world, and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through innovation. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering.

The Foundation sparks, sustains and celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social and environmentally sustainable development. To date, The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S. $150 million in support of its mission.
About the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize

Administered by the Technology Entrepreneur Center in the College of Engineering, the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize is awarded to a student who has demonstrated remarkable inventiveness and innovation. Funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize has recognized outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995.

Contact: Rhiannon Clifton, Technology Entrepreneur Center, 217/244-4035.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office, 217/244-7716, writer/editor.