This year’s $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize goes to Angela M. Belcher, the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy in the departments of materials science and engineering as well as biological engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The award honors midcareer scientists whose inventions are making a broad impact on society. Belcher, who is also a faculty member at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, is lauded for biologically engineering materials with applications in areas including energy technology and medical imaging.
One technique Belcher has developed genetically engineers human-benign, bacteria-infecting viruses to interact with inorganic materials, resulting in organic-inorganic hybrid materials. She has used the technique to create an environmentally friendly, nontoxic battery that can power small devices such as laser pointers.
Belcher has also genetically engineered viruses to make electron collection in solar cells more efficient, boosting their energy production by one-third. Now, she is working on using the technique to detect certain cancers early and to develop new ways to purify water.
Belcher has cofounded two companies. Siluria Technologies, which launched in 2007, uses her technique to turn methane gas into liquid fuels. Cambrios Technologies, which started up in 2002, produces silver nanowire formulations that can be used to make transparent conducting materials for touch screens and other consumer electronic devices.
The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which was established in 1993 by the late inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy.