2004 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winner
Saul Griffith's mission is "to do things in the least environmentally
damaging way." His passion for the environment is evident in
his inventions, such as his device for producing low-cost eyeglass
lenses to reduce the cost and waste a small rural community incurs
from keeping a large library of lenses.
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Griffith, the 2004 winner of
the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, comments, "I like to
know how stuff works, how the world works." His parents have
both been inspirational—his mother is an artist and his father
is an engineer. Saul and his father once built a 3-ton hydraulic
printing press for his mother, who runs a printmaking studio using
Rembrandt-era technology. The press was so large that they had to
take the roof off the studio in order to move it inside.
Griffith received his undergraduate degree from the University
of South Wales, plus two master's degrees from both the University
of Sydney and MIT. He developed his low-cost device for manufacturing
eyeglass lenses after discussing the problems of costly eye care
and glasses with the education minister of Kenya. Using programmable,
changeable surfaces, he created a (patent-pending) portable molding
mechanism that acts like a desktop printer for producing inexpensive
lenses. He also created an auto-retinoscope that tests eye vision,
which allows him to produce lenses tailored to varying prescriptions
from his device.
Griffith's other inventions include an electronic rope, which
incorporates electronically active fibers in the braid structure
so that the rope can sense it's own strain, making it ideal for
safety applications, and a recyclable 3D LEGO chocolate printer
that enables kids to build their own toys and eat them. He also
created a tangible interface glove from interwoven shape memory
alloys that can transmit forces to the underlying skin, coupling
the human sense of touch with a computer-generated world. In collaboration
with Joost Bonsen, he has been developing "Howtoons"—cartoons
that teach kids science and engineering principles by building things
out of accessible household materials. He hopes to modernize the
old-fashioned children instruction books to breed a new generation
of people who are excited about making stuff.
In May 2004, Griffith completed his Ph.D. thesis, which examined
self-assembly and producing programmable materials and machines
to make complex structures. Griffith and his colleagues then started
the engineering/technology venture, SQUIDLabs, LLC in Emeryville,
California, where he currently invents. A wind-surfer and ice "butt-boarding"
enthusiast, he credits his peers as being great inspirations, noting
that MIT "is so highly dense with people who are obsessive
and passionate about what they do."
Podcast with Griffith by the Lemelson Center
Griffith Presents at TED
Take a tour of Squid Labs with Saul Griffith
Griffith Featured on the Martha Stewart Show