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SPIE Professional July 2013

Bioengineers win innovation awards

SPIE members receive awards for health and safety innovations.

Photonics for a Better World logo

Bioengineering professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden of Rice University (USA) have received the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation for partnering with undergraduates to develop and improve access to health innovations for the world’s poorest communities.

Richards-Kortum, an SPIE member, and Oden established the Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB) engineering design initiative at Rice University in 2005, and it became part of the Rice360 Institute for Global Health Technologies in 2007. Kortum is director of the institute.

The professors have guided more than 3000 students through the multidisciplinary program’s invention process, resulting in 58 health technologies that are helping 45,000 people in 24 countries. Undergrads are provided with a hands-on education and a roadmap to become inventors and innovators.

BTB inventions include the Global Focus Microscope, a device that uses battery-operated LED lighting for fluorescent microscopy to diagnose diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.


The GlobalFocus microscope was designed by Andrew Miller when he was an undergraduate at Rice University.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Miller

The Global Focus Microscope and the Rice 360 Institute were featured in an SPIE Professional article in July 2010. The portable microscope, built by Andrew Miller before graduating from Rice in 2009, can be manufactured for about $240, compared to fluorescent microscopes sold in the developing world for $40,000 or more.

Richards-Kortum and Oden are donating the $100,000 prize money to the Day One Project, another Rice 360 program, which will renovate the neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.

Appropriate technologies that reduce neonatal mortality in low-resource district hospitals can be developed, refined, tested, and scaled at the hospital that has helped implement Rice’s low-cost, student-designed health-care technologies.

Smart helmet for rescue workers senses danger

In a separate competition, SPIE Senior Member Babak Shadgan and colleague Behnam Molavi of University of British Columbia (Canada) have won the 2012 Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup in the safety and prevention category for a helmet that monitors vital signs of firefighters and other rescue workers.

The smart fire-rescue helmet is a non-invasive wireless system capable of monitoring several vital statistics in real time.

The system includes a GPS to help rescue operations should a central monitoring center detect carbon monoxide poisoning or other critical health conditions of rescue workers in the field.

Photonics for a Better World

Read more articles and blog posts celebrating the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world:

— Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

— To receive a print copy of SPIE Professional, the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201307.25

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