Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
MIT graduate student Thomas Massie and alumnus James McLurkin--two brilliant young inventors--met with 60 middle-school youngsters from the Washington, DC, area recently for a hands-on lecture/demonstration on how invention happens.
Mr. Massie and Mr. McLurkin offered common household items for inspection, destruction and reassembly at an "Innovative Lives" event held October 27 at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The event was sponsored by the museum's Lemelson Center in conjunction with the Lemelson-MIT Awards, the nation's largest awards program encouraging American invention and innovation. The awards were given for the first time earlier this year; Mr. Massie was the first winner of the $30,000 student prize.
In the museum's Information Age Theater, Mr. Massie and Mr. McLurkin demonstrated their own creations--a virtual reality (VR) device and a bevy of "robotic ants." Mr. Massie's PHANToM is a VR computer interface that allows the user to feel what is seen on a computer screen. Mr. McClurkin has developed matchbook-sized robots that, like ants, search cooperatively for "food." The ants also play tag.
The $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize will be awarded April 11 to an outstanding established US inventor. Later this year, a panel chaired by Dr. Lester C. Thurow, the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management and Economics at the Sloan School of Management, will review nominees for the 1996 award. Later in the spring, the Lemelson-MIT student prize will be awarded.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 8, 1995.