Lemelson MIT

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

College students having a discussion in the library

Creative innovation is something the world needs now more than ever. Whether it’s new inventions in healthcare, sustainable energy solutions, or even just new ways to solve old problems that we face as a society– our world needs fresh faces in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in order to ensure progression as a human race. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy and are a critical component to helping the U.S. win the future. STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while other occupations are growing at 9.8%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. The Lemelson MIT Program incorporates critical STEM concepts.

At AdmissionSight, we believe that you are the face of the next generation of critical thinkers and innovators. Students (many of whom we have helped!) who graduate from top universities and enter STEM fields go on to become some of the best scientists. Engineers, researchers, and inventors in the world and create solutions for a better future.

So the question posed here is this: How can we help you– not only in guiding you through the college application process but in building your skills and talents so that you grow as a student and a thinker?

Colleges and admissions officers look beyond strong academics and good test scores to see what makes you unique. What are you passionate about? What are your plans for the future? What will you do to make a positive impact on the world and represent their school after if you are admitted?

One fantastic way to add character and highlight your strengths is by participating in a well-known summer program or competing in a national academic competition.

One such nationally-acclaimed program is the Lemelson-MIT Program.

a female student smiling in front of the camera and carrying her stuff

What is the Lemelson MIT Program?

The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by MIT’s School of Engineering. Based in Portland, The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives. Inspired by the belief that invention can solve many of the biggest economic and social challenges of our time, the Foundation helps the next generation of inventors and invention-based businesses to flourish. The Lemelson Foundation was established in the early 1990s by prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife Dorothy. To date, the Foundation has made grants totaling over $200 million in support of its mission.

Two people talking in front of a laptop while sitting on the couch of a living room.

Every year the Lemelson Foundation recognizes emerging collegiate inventors whose inventions could impact important sectors of the global economy and honor mid-career inventors with a prestigious cash prize. They also encourage youth to invent and develop their hands-on skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) through two grants initiatives for grades 6-12.

The Lemelson-MIT Program awards several prizes yearly to inventors in the United States. The largest is the Lemelson–MIT Prize which was endowed in 1994 by Jerome H. Lemelson, funded by the Lemelson Foundation, and is administered through the School of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The winner receives $500,000, making it the largest cash prize for invention in the U.S.

The $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation (previously named the Award for Sustainability) was last awarded in 2013. The Award for Global Innovation replaced the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded from 1995-2006. The Lifetime Achievement Award recognized outstanding individuals whose pioneering spirit and inventiveness throughout their careers improved society and inspired others.

The Lemelson-MIT Program also awards invention prizes for college students, called the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

three students studying outside

What are the prizes for the Lemelson-MIT Program?

The Lemelson-MIT Prize previously had two tiers of awards: a $500k grant for mid-career inventors and a $10-15k student grant honoring promising young inventors. The last 25th $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize was bestowed in 2019.  The Lemelson Foundation and the Lemelson-MIT Program have made the decision to discontinue the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize as of 2019.  Instead, they will be redoubling efforts to inspire youth to invent with purpose and focusing solely on the educational and student program.

The Student Prize is open to teams of undergraduate students and individual graduate students who have technology-based inventions in categories that represent significant sectors of the economy: healthcare, transportation and mobility, food/water and agriculture, and consumer devices.

What are the prize categories?

Applicants submit their inventions in categories that represent significant sectors of the economy, which could be reimagined and improved through invention. The prize categories are as follows:

  • The “Cure it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: “Cure it!” rewards students working on technology-based inventions that involve healthcare.
  • The “Eat it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: “Eat it!” rewards students working on technology-based inventions that involve food/water or agriculture.
  • The “Move it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: “Move it!” rewards students working on technology-based inventions that involve transportation or mobility.
  • The “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize: “Use it!” rewards students working on technology-based inventions that involve consumer devices – defined as tangible consumer products where the end-users are retail customers who would purchase the product for use in their daily life.

Winners receive:

  • $15,000 to the winning graduate student in each of the prize categories.
  • $10,000 to the winning undergraduate team in each of the prize categories.
  • National media campaign and exposure to investment and business communities.
  • A paid trip for an award celebration in June.

What are the eligibility requirements for Lemelson MIT?

2020 student applicants must be full-time, matriculated, degree-seeking students in the spring semester of 2020 at any U.S. college or university. Postdocs, audit students, and alumni are not eligible.

  • Undergraduate Team Prize: Be an undergraduate student-founded and student-led team composed of two to five students, with the majority of team members being undergraduate students. Graduate students can be part of the undergraduate team as long as there is a majority of undergraduate team members. Individual undergraduate students cannot apply without a team. The student submitting the application will be considered the team lead and the main point of contact for anything application-related. Undergraduate teams must have a tested prototype of one invention and should apply to the prize category that best fits their invention.
  • Individual Graduate Prize: Individual graduate students must have tested prototypes of at least two inventions to be eligible for the competition. Graduate students should choose a primary invention from their portfolio and apply it to the prize category that best fits their primary invention. Their second and any additional (if applicable) inventions do not need to be in the same field as the primary invention. There is no graduate student team prize.

Patents are encouraged but not required. Additionally, applicants should be able to outline examples of their involvement in youth mentoring and outreach activities and are asked to consider environmental sustainability as a factor in their inventive work.

2020 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winners are required to attend EurekaFest in Washington, D.C. from June 17 – 19.  For undergraduate team winners, at least one team member must attend. Domestic airfare and lodging will be covered for all winners. EurekaFest is a unique, inspiring opportunity for winners to interact with one another and Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams.

Three students smiling at the camera while sitting on a bench.

What are the goals of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize?

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize seeks to serve as a catalyst for burgeoning inventors. Prizes are awarded annually to inventive graduate students and teams of undergraduate students from any college or university in the United States. The award publicity helps to expose winners to technology, engineering, science, business, and investment communities.

What qualifies as an invention for the purposes of Lemelson MIT?

The Lemelson-MIT Program considers an invention to be new technology, product, or process developed by the student applicant that is unique, useful, and solves a real-world problem with an identified user. Strong applications have evidence (data) supporting that the invention works as intended to, including engagement with users during the evaluation of the invention.

What is a tested prototype?

A prototype must be tested and functional. It should work as designed beyond proof of concept models. Evidence of the functional prototype can be data from the lab, human subjects testing, or consumer product testing that has been collected and analyzed. Applicants need to provide evidence that the functional prototype performs as intended.

Prototypes do not need to be commercially available but they should be commercially viable. Applicants are not expected to develop prototypes past early stages nor do they need to present a business plan. Commercialization potential is, however, a criterion of the competition and prototypes further along in development that exhibit strong commercialization potential may be rated higher than early-stage inventions.

What does it mean to be “an undergraduate student-founded and led team”?

An undergraduate student-founded and led team is one in which the idea for the invention was generated by an undergraduate student who then built and is actively leading a team of 2-5 students (the majority of whom are undergraduates) to develop and commercialize that invention. Graduate students can be part of the undergraduate team provided the majority of team members are undergraduates. The person submitting the team’s application will be considered the team lead and the main point of contact for anything application-related.

Are applicants required to have any patents?

No, applicants are not required to have any patents. However, the Lemelson-MIT Program strongly encourages applicants to discuss in their application any intellectual property (IP) that they have filed or plan to file and correctly attribute ownership (i.e. candidates should own the IP of any invention entered into the competition). The supplemental materials section is an excellent place to submit patent abstracts. The strongest applications over the years have featured patented inventions or inventions involved in the patenting process.

View of a young man talking to two unidentified people.

Does the candidate forfeit intellectual property rights by submitting an application to Lemelson MIT?

The Lemelson-MIT Program asks screening committees and the judging panel to acknowledge that student applications are distributed solely for the candidacy of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, and should not be reproduced for other purposes. Candidates are advised to consult their school’s Intellectual Property policies as directed by their Technology Licensing Office, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office to ensure the protection of their intellectual property, if applicable.

Are winners required to use the award money for research?

No, the money is an unrestricted cash gift but could certainly be used for future research or development of their prototype(s).

What is required of winners?

Winners are asked to participate in media opportunities arranged by the Lemelson-MIT Program to celebrate their win and recognize their work. Winners are required to attend EurekaFest, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s annual multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit, which will be held in Washington, D.C. from June 17 – 19. Undergraduate team winners must have at least one team member in attendance. Attendance at EurekaFest is at the Lemelson-MIT Program’s expense. The Lemelson-MIT Program may request winners to participate in future public education and press activities as applicable.

Who are the judges?

All applicants who meet the Initial Application requirements will be advanced to the Category Application round.

Following that, there is a two-tiered judging process:

  • Category Application round: Screening committees who have expertise in the candidates’ field areas (i.e. the Student Prize categories: healthcare, consumer products, transportation and mobility, and food/water and agriculture).
  • Finalist round: A national jury consisting of a panel of experts from a variety of disciplines such as mechanical engineering, bioengineering, physics, medicine, finance, transportation and mobility, and food/water and agriculture.

What criteria are used to judge the candidates?

Applicants will be evaluated by category-specific screening committees and a prestigious national jury based on a range of criteria including:

  • Description of inventiveness (single invention for undergraduate teams and portfolio of inventions for graduate students)
  • Potential or realized commercialization/adoption of the invention(s)
  • Ability to articulate systems and design thinking approach to the invention process
  • Scope of youth mentoring and leadership experience
  • Supporting letters of recommendation
  • Finalists only: two-minute finalist video

No criterion is considered paramount. Judges are asked to take a holistic view of each candidate with respect to the goals of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

What makes an excellent application?

An excellent application is well-presented, complete, and follows instructions (e.g., character count). Strong applications feature truly inventive technology and make a compelling case based on the selection criteria listed above. You can also read about past winners of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

I would like to apply but my project does not fit into any of this year’s categories. What can I do?

The Lemelson-MIT Program hopes to award prizes in additional categories in future years. For now, applicants must choose one of the four current categories. For graduate students, at least your primary invention must fit into one of the four prize categories.

Is the prize given to college students with proposed work/inventions?

No, this is not an idea competition or funding pitch for yet-to-be-developed projects. Submissions must be existing tech-based inventions with tested and working prototypes, having the potential for real commercialization, implementation, or greater impact.

Students can also access a variety of resources and information that can be found on the Lemelson-MIT website.

In today’s world, especially with the recent impact of the COVID-19 crisis as well as environmental issues, it is more important than ever to build a generation of proactive thinkers and problem-solvers. Lemelson-MIT has been promoting and fostering students in STEM for years and intends to continue to do so.

Group of students walking on the school campus.

If you have a knack for inventing, an interest in technology, or finding solutions to real-world problems, this program could be a good fit for you. Lemelson-MIT is also a great way to boost your resume and college applications.

AdmissionSight is committed to working closely with you to target every minor detail of the application that could better portray your academic and leadership abilities. We love to work with students who are driven and desire success. When it comes to the application and admissions process, we are confident that our students can compete against the country’s best and brightest and become leaders that will change the world.



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