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Lemelson-MIT Invention Index Raises Questions
about Teens' Perceptions of Their Preparedness to
Tackle Future Societal Problems

Cambridge, MA, January 11, 2006 — Gasoline-powered automobiles, compact discs and desktop computers are headed toward the technology scrap heap, according to a recent survey of American teenagers.

The 2006 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges Americans' attitudes toward invention and innovation, found that a third of teens (33 percent) predict the demise of gasoline-powered cars by the year 2015. One in four teens (26 percent) expects compact discs to be obsolete within the next decade, and roughly another one in five (22 percent) predicts desktop computers will be a thing of the past.

Obsolete Technologies

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Teens are also optimistic that new inventions and innovations can solve important global issues, such as clean water (91 percent), world hunger (89 percent), disease eradication (88 percent), pollution reduction (84 percent) and energy conservation (82 percent).

"Perhaps more than any preceding generation, today's young people are completely comfortable with rapid technological change," Lemelson-MIT Program Director Merton Flemings said. "The rate of innovation, as reflected in U.S. patent applications, has more than doubled during their lifetime."

"Teens' belief that science and technology may hold the answers to our biggest societal challenges is encouraging," Flemings added, "but it also begs the question: Is this generation properly equipped and motivated to invent solutions to these mind-boggling challenges?"

The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index found that teens believe they have developed some of the critical skills that will be needed to address these problems. More than three out of four teens (77 percent) believe they have learned problem-solving skills well while in school. They also feel prepared to work in teams (72 percent), think creatively (71 percent) and lead others (61 percent). However, they fall short when it comes to budgeting money. Only 32 percent of teens said they feel they learned that skill well while in school.

High School Skills

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Other studies suggest, however, that teens in high school may have a limited frame of reference to assess how well they are truly prepared. For example, a February 2005 report by Achieve, Inc. found that 55 percent of college instructors were dissatisfied with their students' abilities to apply what they learn to problem solving.

And while teens are optimistic that societal problems can be solved through invention and innovation, the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index raises questions about whether teens are interested in personally solving these problems.

When asked to select the career field in which they are most interested, arts and medicine were teens' top choices (17 percent each). Teen girls were significantly more likely to be interested in medicine or health care careers than teen boys (25 percent vs. 9 percent). Engineering was the third most-attractive career choice (14 percent of all respondents), but it was significantly more popular with teen boys than girls (24 percent vs. 4 percent). Only 9 percent of respondents chose science and only 8 percent chose business as their top career choices.

"The relative lack of interest in science and technology-oriented fields is alarming," Flemings said. "This year's Invention Index found that nearly half of teens view invention as a way to contribute to society and be creative. Yet we continue to fall short, particularly with respect to teenage girls, when it comes to presenting these fields as viable and attainable career options. We need to do more to make science and technology more attractive to today's youth."

So what is attractive to today's youth? The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index asked teens to choose a low-tech object they wish they had invented and to say why. The pencil was cited by 38 percent of respondents. More than half of those who chose the pencil (52 percent) did so because they felt it was a contribution to society. Another 45 percent of teens said it was a creative idea.

"It appears that teens respond best to creative inventions, and not just those that merely make money or garner fame," said Flemings. "Only by encouraging students to combine strong science skills, problem-solving abilities, and creative thinking, will we be able to develop the next generation of inventors.


About the Lemelson-MIT Program
The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration to make invention and innovation more accessible to today’s youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities and annual awards, including the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest single award in the United States for invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world’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, a private philanthropy committed to honoring the contributions of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs and to inspiring ingenuity in others. More information is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent.

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