When the judges sat down to award this year’s $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize for innovation, there were a slew of fantastic inventions to choose from. Implantable computers, ultra-low-cost cameras, a revolutionary solar panel design. Luckily for the judges all three were invented by one man: Dr John A Rogers.
Seemingly cut from the same cloth as previous Lemelson-MIT recipient and Renaissance man Erez Aiden (see Ed Yong’s excellent piece here), Roger’s creations have spanned a disparate collection of sciences, and he himself credits his success to an appreciation for both science and the creative arts.
Three years ago, Rogers launched mc10, a company that developed a new class of flexible electronics. The bio-engineering project produced circuits embedded in soft, flexible silicon that could mould to the contours of the human body – both outside and in. The electronics can safely bond to internal organs such at the brain or heart, mapping electrical activity and reporting back crucial data on health and healing. The company is currently working with Reebok to create wearable computers for their athletic wear (insoles that monitor your pronation, anyone?).
As if that wasn’t enough, the materials physicist also delved into optics to create a camera similar in size and shape to a human eye. Typically a lens this small would produce a large amount of distortion at the edges. Rogers solved the problem by implanting the photo-diodes on a hemispherical cavity, similar to the retina. As a result, the “electric eye” uses a cheap plastic lens that costs a fraction of similar-sized cameras.
The electric eye
But wait, there’s more! Taking the lessons learned in creating the electric eye, Rogers wondered how he could use the photocollectors en masse to address one of the major technological challenges of our day: the quest for reliable, renewable energy sources. Semprius, founded in 2006, built on a partnership with Siemens to build high-performance solar cells printed directly onto thin sheets of glass. Less expensive than existing solar panels, the technique can be used to apply solar-collectors to other materials, turning windows, hoardings, even clothes into solar cells.
If you’d like to see electric eyes and implantable electronics close up and happen to be near Massachusetts, Rogers is presenting his many accomplishments to the public at MIT during EurekaFest, “a celebration of the inventive spirit”, June 15 – 18.
Know someone “dedicated to improving our world through technological invention and innovation” deserving of a cool half million dollars? You can enter their name into next year’s competition here.