News Releases
Inventor borrows ideas from nature to tackle key societal challenges; awarded $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize for work
June 4, 2013

June 4, 2013 – Dr. Angela Belcher, a materials chemist and one of the world’s leading scientists in nanotechnology was announced today as the recipient of the 2013 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. Belcher has drawn inspiration from nature and its ability to create materials. She believes that if organic and inorganic materials can combine in nature to produce exquisite structures, similar processes can be used in the lab to create things of which nature hasn’t yet dreamed. She has used these lessons in biology to design novel, hybrid organic-inorganic materials that have been used to create environmentally-friendly batteries and clean transportation fuel, among other inventions with both commercial and social value. The Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors an outstanding mid-career inventor dedicated to improving our world through technological invention, has been awarded annually since 1995.

The current W.M. Keck Professor of Energy in Materials Science and Biological Engineering at MIT and David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research faculty member was initially motivated by the abalone shell during her time spent by the ocean as an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The abalone shell was created by the abalone sea snail throughout millions of years of evolution and is comprised of 98 percent calcium carbonate – an inorganic compound – and two percent organic protein. The combination makes the shell 3,000 times tougher than its geological counterpart. The shell motivated Belcher to question how biology could be engineered to make new materials for human use. Today Belcher’s work is focused on convincing biology to work with elements in the periodic table to create new, advanced and environmentally-safe materials.

“The full implications of Angela Belcher’s work are only beginning to be realized and yet the applications already appear to be far-reaching,” said Evelyn Hu, co-founder of Belcher’s two companies and the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering at Harvard University. “Her inventions are always linked back to her profound passion and compassion for society, and her desire to improve the quality of life for others.”

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