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Dr. David Levy Wins 1996 Lemelson-MIT $30,000 Student Prize

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 1, 1996) — MIT graduate student David Levy has been named the 1996 recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize of $30,000 by the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program, administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Prize is awarded annually to an MIT student who demonstrates excellence in innovative thinking.

Levy, with four patents to his credit (eight are pending), has a track record for inventing devices that quickly get the attention of companies eager for mass production — from the world's smallest keypad (no bigger than a credit card), to a surgical method that snaps severed arteries together in seconds rather than the usual 20 minutes.

"I started my own company in order to focus on what I love best — inventing," says Levy. "The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize not only lends credence to that endeavor, but also inspires others to do the same, to pursue careers in invention."

"Inventing is the best career I know," says the mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, who established TH, Inc. ("think") in 1989 as a vehicle to license his own patents. His first product was Peelables® — layered labels that peel off to uncover fresh ones. 3M quickly discovered the invention, and is testmarketing them globally for videocassettes. BASF is doing the same for computer diskettes. "It's very satisfying to see your idea turn into a successful commercial product, something that solves a problem for someone else," says Levy. Since its inception, TH, Inc.'s success has soared, and has been earning its own way for the past three years.

As an independent inventor, Levy has the freedom to pursue his dreams at his own pace, according to his own timetables. He followed the trend toward miniaturization and created the Micro-Miniature Ergonomic Keypad — the smallest full-sized keyboard ever, complete with the entire alphabet, a numeric pad and eight function keys. The "trick" is that it's two keyboards superimposed: for the numeric pad, each key is reduced by half, with numbers printed not on top of each key but where they meet, at the interstices. Four "quarter" keys operate together, allowing the keyboard to reduce to the size of a credit card, while keeping each virtual key full-sized.

The alphabetical keyboard is superimposed on top of the numeric. Each key is domed, which allows for surprisingly easy access to each letter. Levy's simple design can fit an entire keyboard into a wallet — and is the kind of technology that will revolutionize two-way paging, usher in the era of palm-sized computers and enable telephones to one day serve as fully-functional computer interfaces.

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Another invention is the Wedgie™ bicycle seat lock, which makes it virtually impossible for would-be thieves to steal a bicycle seat. Two plastic wedges are connected by a nylon cord inside the frame; they can only be unlocked by turning the bike upside-down, an impossible task if the bike is chained to a post. The patent is not yet issued, but manufacturers are already clamoring for licensing rights.

Levy began inventing as a nine-year-old boy living in Manhattan Beach, CA. He was frustrated each time he climbed into bed, but forgot to flip the light switch across the room. Thinking there had to be a better way, Levy devised an elaborate pulley system, allowing him to shut off the lights while still in bed. Since then, Levy has put his ingenuity to work at Apple Computer, spending five years in an elite new product development group as a product engineer.

His most recent invention addresses a common problem faced by surgeons all over the world: how do you splice together two vessels (such as veins or arteries) while minimizing the risk of leakage and contamination? Existing methods introduce foreign material into the bloodstream and stimulate the body to counter with a natural clotting process. Levy devised a method that keeps all foreign materials out of the bloodstream by turning one end of the vessel inside out and snapping the result together with biocompatible rings. The rings form a better seal than provided by current methods, and the procedure reduces surgical time from 20 minutes to one.

One source of pride for this independent inventor is that all his inventions have been developed into licensability without the need for venture capital. "I try to keep my inventions simple: simple enough to develop the entire product on my own," says Levy. "Also, the simpler the product, the easier it is to incorporate it into an existing machine. That means faster implementation, which brings my idea to others as soon as possible."

The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is part of the Lemelson-MIT Prize Program. Last year's Student Prize winner was Thomas Massie, inventor of the PHANToM, a virtual reality device which allows users to feel what they see on a computer screen. Massie founded his own company based on the PHANToM, called SensAble Technologies, in Cambridge, Mass.

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 largest 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.

Read more about Dr. David Levy.

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