Beckman Well-represented at Lemelson Prize Ceremony

The 2009 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize was awarded Wednesday and the Beckman Institute was well-represented with a graduate student among the finalists and Beckman faculty among the advisers for the student finalists, including the winner.

The 2009 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize was awarded Wednesday and the Beckman Institute was well-represented with a graduate student among the finalists and Beckman faculty among the advisers for the student finalists, including the winner.

John Wright was the winner of the 2009 Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize, given to outstanding student inventors at the University of Illinois. Wright’s advisers are Beckman faculty members Robert Fossum and Yi Ma. Ben Blaiszik, a graduate student with Beckman’s Autonomous Materials Systems (AMS) group, was one of the eight finalists. Jang-Ung Park, whose adviser is Beckman faculty member John Rogers, was also a finalist.

The finalists and the winner were recognized in a ceremony Wednesday at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

Wright, a pre-doctoral fellow in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, does research that has greatly improved the accuracy of facial recognition systems. He is the third person to win the Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize, which carries a $30,000 award to the winner. Ma and Fossum spoke about Wright’s research in introducing him at the ceremony.

Blaiszik is a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. His work with the AMS group is aimed at finding methods to incorporate self-healing capability into materials such as coatings or paints used on structures ranging from bridges to airplanes.   

Blaiszik was co-author with AMS faculty members Jeff Moore, Scott White, and Nancy Sottos, and fellow grad student Mary Caruso of a 2008 paper in Advanced Functional Materials that reported on a major advance in the researchers’ work with self-healing materials. Previous work on using encapsulated agents for self-healing used a toxic solvent to heal damaged materials. The 2008 paper reported on using non-toxic agents – a common food additive and an epoxy monomer – in the microcapsules, while achieving a 100 percent healing efficiency.

“Mary and I worked on that collaboratively,” Blaiszik said. “That’s one of the nice things about the AMS group is that it’s mainly one lab up on the third floor of Beckman so we’re always there together talking.”

Blaiszik said the collaborative approach to research at Beckman helps spur innovation. He also appreciates the input of faculty like White and Sottos, who attended the ceremony.

“Being part of the AMS group is great because there are so many people from different disciplines,” he said. “We’ve got chemists, materials scientists, and mechanical engineers, a little bit of expertise from everywhere. At Beckman we’ve got great facilities and working with Scott and Nancy is great just because they are always there to answer questions.”

Ha worked with Rogers to create techniques for an electrohydrodynamic jet (e-jet) printing process that produces patterns and functional devices that significantly surpass those of conventional inkjet technologies.

The University of Illinois is one of only four institutions in the country to award a Lemelson Prize. The Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize is part of the Lemelson-MIT Awards and Innovations program which honors both career and student inventors.