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Lemelson gift honors former President Charles Vest, encourages MIT student invention
February 23, 2015

CAMBRIDGE, MA. -- MIT has received a $1 million gift from The Lemelson Foundation to establish a fund to encourage student invention. The gift was made in memory of the late Charles M. Vest, former president of MIT.

Vest, who served as MIT’s president from 1990 to 2004, died in December 2013. The gift creates the Lemelson-Vest Fund for Student Invention to honor his “contributions to the inventive capabilities of generations of engineers,” according to The Lemelson Foundation.

The Lemelson-Vest Fund will support hands-on experiences for MIT undergraduate and graduate students in the Institute’s Glass Lab, Foundry, Forge, and other fabrication facilities within the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE). These are the facilities where classroom topics like heat transfer and solidification processing come alive as students melt and cast metal, engage in glassblowing, and otherwise work directly with a range of materials.

Credit: Denis Paiste / Materials Processing Center

“In creating this new fund to honor the memory of Chuck Vest, Dorothy Lemelson and The Lemelson Foundation demonstrate their deep understanding of MIT’s hands-on culture,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. “Our students learn the art of invention by doing it — testing, prototyping, optimizing, and refining their way to serious innovation. By enabling more of our students to engage in this indispensable form of learning-by-doing, this vital new support will help us educate aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs who are ready to meet the market and serve the world. We could not be more grateful.”

The Lemelson Foundation’s chairman, Dorothy Lemelson, praised Vest’s role in helping her and her husband, the prolific U.S. inventor Jerome Lemelson, create the Lemelson-MIT Program in 1994 as a way of celebrating outstanding inventors and motivating young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. The program is perhaps best known for the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, an annual award that honors outstanding midcareer inventors. The prize is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by MIT’s School of Engineering.

“Chuck Vest led MIT with vision, courage, and grace,” Lemelson says. “When Jerry approached MIT to develop a program focused on fostering invention, we were novice philanthropists. Dr. Vest welcomed Jerry’s ideas and helped us shape the successful program and relationship that we enjoy today with MIT. Our family and the Foundation will be forever grateful and are proud to participate in preserving Dr. Vest’s legacy.” 

Christopher Schuh, the department head of DMSE, says the grant will help students develop the skills that are a hallmark of an MIT education. “Our students are innovative, entrepreneurial, and ingenious, using materials science and engineering to address the challenges facing the world,” says Schuh, who is the Danae and Vasilis Salapatas Professor of Metallurgy. “We are thrilled that The Lemelson Foundation has chosen to honor Dr. Vest with this gift that will support students as they use DMSE’s hands-on lab facilities to invent, design, and build.”

Related Links 

Lemelson-MIT Program

Video: “The Foundry at MIT”