Slocum, students promote invention


All graduate students hope to have their work eventually published and perhaps even patented. However, Professor Alexander Slocum's students hope their collaboration will bring not just financial or academic rewards for themselves, but assistance for minority and underprivileged young people who want to see their own invention ideas become reality.

Students of Professor Slocum, the Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are using their design expertise to build the foundation of Urban Design Corps (UDC). They envision a program whereby some of the profits realized from the licensing and sale of their inventions will be used to help students of all ages learn and then navigate the entire product-development pathway-"teaching them to dream, design, create, test, manufacture, market and distribute," he said. Recently, Sanjay Sarma and David Cochran, both newly appointed assistant professors of mechanical engineering, have also joined the UDC effort.

A business plan for the UDC targeting both investors and entrepreneurs is being written by graduate student Marc Graham, who is also designing athletic equipment and clothing, toys including a new type of pogo stick, and other consumer products. He and his fellow organizers expect that once it's off the ground, the UDC will grow vigorously, since the for-profit startup companies it engenders will be required to return a set proportion of earnings back into the UDC. The firms themselves will have good potential for success because they will be backed by the resources of their parent organization, they believe. "Companies started by the UDC will reinvest in the Corps, helping it to grow and provide more opportunities for youths," Mr. Graham explained.

MULTIPLE BENEFITS

The UDC will give young would-be engineers some of the influence now wielded by venture capitalists and professional engineers, as well as a way to assist in the economic revival of their communities, Professor Slocum explained. The program will benefit participating students (as well as their future industry employers) by giving them entrepreneurial experience while they're still in school, and it will also strengthen university-industry partnerships already in place, he added.

The idea for UDC was hatched three years ago by Professor Slocum and graduate student David Levy, already a prolific inventor (see related story). A successful model for the UDC's approach to stimulating invention is the MIT Second Summer Program's engineering design workshop, Professor Slocum said. The program places minority students in paid industry internships after their freshman year. During the preceding IAP, applicants are given a broad design goal and then break into competing teams to develop and build devices. After two weeks, each team submits a report including an engineering and cost analysis and demonstrates its prototype.

There are several other projects now underway to benefit the UDC. Christopher Ho and other graduate students, together with Professors Sarma and Cochran, are working on Nerdscape, a Web site that will display the work of the MIT students who are starting the UDC and later, the work of UDC youths themselves. By using this forum and resource database, young inventors can learn about the process and also see other people's work. "It's sort of like a trade show on the net," Professor Slocum said.

Some of his other graduate and undergraduate students are designing bicycle racks shaped like animals, a lawn vacuum/sweeper, archery equipment and a bicycle wheel suspension system. He and Mr. Ho have also invented a modular rack component with a unique lock-and-key joint design at either end, enabling people to build lightweight, inexpensive storage racks or cubes that are stronger and more attractive than stacked plastic crates.

Nerdscape may soon become a new research project in conjunction with the Academy of Applied Science, which sponsors nationwide Invention Conventions for young inventors. Ideally, Professor Slocum said, Nerdscape will allow them to join with university and vocational students to build a new on-line version of corporate America. "If current management practice is to lay off workers to increase stock prices, then we need to develop new companies, methods and products to employ people," he said.
All graduate students hope to have their work eventually published and perhaps even patented. However, Professor Alexander Slocum's students hope their collaboration will bring not just financial or academic rewards for themselves, but assistance for minority and underprivileged young people who want to see their own invention ideas become reality.

Students of Professor Slocum, the Alex and Brit d'Arbeloff Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are using their design expertise to build the foundation of Urban Design Corps (UDC). They envision a program whereby some of the profits realized from the licensing and sale of their inventions will be used to help students of all ages learn and then navigate the entire product-development pathway-"teaching them to dream, design, create, test, manufacture, market and distribute," he said. Recently, Sanjay Sarma and David Cochran, both newly appointed assistant professors of mechanical engineering, have also joined the UDC effort.

A business plan for the UDC targeting both investors and entrepreneurs is being written by graduate student Marc Graham, who is also designing athletic equipment and clothing, toys including a new type of pogo stick, and other consumer products. He and his fellow organizers expect that once it's off the ground, the UDC will grow vigorously, since the for-profit startup companies it engenders will be required to return a set proportion of earnings back into the UDC. The firms themselves will have good potential for success because they will be backed by the resources of their parent organization, they believe. "Companies started by the UDC will reinvest in the Corps, helping it to grow and provide more opportunities for youths," Mr. Graham explained.

MULTIPLE BENEFITS

The UDC will give young would-be engineers some of the influence now wielded by venture capitalists and professional engineers, as well as a way to assist in the economic revival of their communities, Professor Slocum explained. The program will benefit participating students (as well as their future industry employers) by giving them entrepreneurial experience while they're still in school, and it will also strengthen university-industry partnerships already in place, he added.

The idea for UDC was hatched three years ago by Professor Slocum and graduate student David Levy, already a prolific inventor (see related story). A successful model for the UDC's approach to stimulating invention is the MIT Second Summer Program's engineering design workshop, Professor Slocum said. The program places minority students in paid industry internships after their freshman year. During the preceding IAP, applicants are given a broad design goal and then break into competing teams to develop and build devices. After two weeks, each team submits a report including an engineering and cost analysis and demonstrates its prototype.

There are several other projects now underway to benefit the UDC. Christopher Ho and other graduate students, together with Professors Sarma and Cochran, are working on Nerdscape, a Web site that will display the work of the MIT students who are starting the UDC and later, the work of UDC youths themselves. By using this forum and resource database, young inventors can learn about the process and also see other people's work. "It's sort of like a trade show on the net," Professor Slocum said.

Some of his other graduate and undergraduate students are designing bicycle racks shaped like animals, a lawn vacuum/sweeper, archery equipment and a bicycle wheel suspension system. He and Mr. Ho have also invented a modular rack component with a unique lock-and-key joint design at either end, enabling people to build lightweight, inexpensive storage racks or cubes that are stronger and more attractive than stacked plastic crates.

Nerdscape may soon become a new research project in conjunction with the Academy of Applied Science, which sponsors nationwide Invention Conventions for young inventors. Ideally, Professor Slocum said, Nerdscape will allow them to join with university and vocational students to build a new on-line version of corporate America. "If current management practice is to lay off workers to increase stock prices, then we need to develop new companies, methods and products to employ people," he said.


Topics: Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Faculty, Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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