STUDENT WINS $30,000 PRIZE FOR INVENTIVENESS
FROM LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
From Legos to Rockets: Inventor's Career
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 6, 2002 The Lemelson-MIT
Program announced today that Andrew Heafitz, an MIT graduate student
and Newton, Mass. native, has been selected as the recipient of
its eighth annual $30,000 Student Prize for inventiveness. The Lemelson-MIT
Student Prize judging panel selected Heafitz, a 32-year-old doctoral
candidate in Mechanical Engineering for his ingenuity and remarkable
inventiveness. Among Heafitz's notable inventions are a low-cost
rocket engine and an aerial surveillance system designed for the
Heafitz's love for problem-solving can be traced back to his childhood
interest in Legos™ and other toys that foster creativity.
Although many family members recognized his natural inclination
for engineering, Heafitz insists he didn't fully understand what
engineering was—"designing, inventing and building things"—until
he arrived at MIT in 1987. Winning the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize
is a significant achievement for Heafitz, who had modest aspirations
initially. "I was just hoping to be average at MIT," he
says. "Everyone here is so much better than average that winning
the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is humbling."
For his master's thesis, Heafitz helped to build a low-cost, kerosene-liquid
oxygen rocket engine, using a solar-car motor to get it up to full
speed before igniting. His experience and familiarity with solar-powered
cars, which Heafitz builds and races as a hobby, prompted him to
choose this type of motor. The design greatly simplifies the high-performance
engine needed to reach space and can be manufactured at one-tenth
the cost of existing rocket engines. Heafitz also invented a method
of using the solar-car motor as a dynamometer to determine if the
turbine produced enough power for the engine to be self-sustaining.
If the engine passes its next test firing, scheduled for late March
2002, the MIT Rocket Team will use the engine to power a rocket
of its own design into space. Heafitz, who is a founder and one
of the co-leaders of the team, hopes that the rocket's cargo, a
set of video cameras taking a 360° x 360° panorama, will
be used as a virtual reality exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science.
This interactive exhibit would let people see what it would be like
to ride on a rocket into space.
Currently, Heafitz is developing a new rocket camera system for
the U.S. Army. The soda can-sized device transmits aerial reconnaissance
pictures to a laptop computer. To invent the new surveillance system,
Heafitz combined two of his previously successful innovations—a
remote aerial photography platform designed for his undergraduate
thesis and a balsa wood, motor-driven rocket camera that he built
while still in high school.
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Heafitz holds a U.S. patent for the balsa wood rocket camera and
was a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Finalist when he was in
"I have watched Andrew develop incredibly resourceful solutions,
drawing together ideas and techniques from a wide spectrum of engineering,"
said John Keesee, Senior Lecturer at MIT's Department of Aeronautics
and Astronautics who has worked closely with Heafitz. "He is
unusually prolific, an outstanding inventor, and fully deserving
of this award."
Heafitz, who is currently conducting his doctoral thesis research,
used his rocket camera concept to form TacShot Inc., a company which
develops and produces the low-cost aerial surveillance systems.
The concept was originally used on an archeological expedition,
in the form of a tethered helium balloon with a tele-operated video
camera attached, during which a submerged portion of an ancient
city off the Greek coast was discovered. It was also used to survey
a sunken pirate ship off Cape Cod.
Among those recommending Heafitz for this year's Student Prize
was the 2000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Amy Smith . "I
have always been impressed with his creativity and love of mechanical
design," said Smith, now an Instructor at MIT. "He has
an amazing ability to reduce his ideas to practice quickly and effectively.
He's a true inventor with a love of innovation."
Heafitz earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Mechanical
Engineering from MIT and expects to complete his Ph.D. in Mechanical
Engineering in 2005. Before returning to MIT for his Master's degree,
he designed electric vehicles as Director of Truck Production Engineering
at Solectria Corporation. He was also a Product Design Consultant
for Arthur D. Little, where he designed and helped build the "Plant
Growth Facility" experiment, which was flown on the space shuttle
and was used to look at how plants grow without the influence of
gravity; a carbon fiber bicycle for a leading bicycle manufacturer;
night vision goggle harnesses; and surgical tools, among other mechanisms.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994
by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife,
Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through
outreach activities and annual awards including the world's single
largest prize for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The
Program encourages young Americans to pursue careers in the fields
of science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT
Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other
invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American
History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and
Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno. Last fall,
the Lemelson-MIT Program and MIT Press released Inventing Modern
America: From the Microwave to the Mouse (www.inventingmodernamerica.com),
an illustrated book that profiles 35 American inventors who helped
shape the modern world.
Read more about Andrew Heafitz.
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