Brian Hubert won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventiveness.
The 27-year-old grad student from Yakima, Washington, has dreamed up 500 inventions. “On a good day, I might come up with 10,” says Hubert, who scribbles his ideas on tablecloths, tissue paper, and air-sickness bags on airplanes. He never goes to bed without a pen and notebook by his bed and has filled hundreds of pages with his innovations and drawings. Often, he says, he has so many ideas it is hard to sleep.
On this day he has just spent the night in a San Francisco hotel, where he got another brainstorm. “All hotels have the latest technologies, like heated towel racks and telephones in the bathrooms,” he says, “but I notice that when you’re taking a shower the mirror fogs up. If you want to shave, you need to wipe down the mirror with toilet paper. What the mirror needs is the same technology that’s in a car’s rear-window defogger. It’s an idea worth jotting down.”
In 1996, Hubert earned a bachelor’s and a master’s from MIT in mechanical engineering with a minor in piano performance. This year he earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering with a concentration in nano-assembly technologies.
He has two patents and three more pending. One patent is for a plastic memory chip that has potential applications in smart cards, digital cameras, and portable computer devices. The other is for a low-cost fabrication system for ultra-efficient superconducting wires and transmission lines, which Hubert says could contribute to solving the California energy crisis. He is also working to develop a nano-assembly machine, which may someday have a profound effect on genetically-based medicine.
Among his other inventions are his stock analysis software that details investment opportunities in the securities markets by stimulating nearly every possible combination of buying and selling; a hip joint replacement implant that mimics the bending motion of a normal bone, but exponentially increases in strength the more it bends; and a golf swing performance meter, which measures the velocity and direction of a swing and predicts the distance of a drive.
Hubert began inventing at age eight. One of his earliest ideas was a cup you could drink from while upside-down. Before he was even old enough to drive, he invented a device that tells you if you’re getting cheated when pumping gas at the filling station. He called it the “Cheater Meter.”
The judges said it was his work in several areas that won him the Lemelson-MIT award. He is accomplished in the fields of micro-fabrication technology, computing, music, and architecture.
A gifted composer and concert pianist, he has composed and performed 22 original works. He is also talented at architectural design and has plans for a house inspired by the style of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“Brian Hubert is one of the most gifted and creative researchers and inventors I have ever known,” says Christine Ortiz, an assistant professor in the department of materials science and engineering.
Josh Tolkoff, one of the contest judges, said: “It’s rare to see someone who can write and play music like Mozart one day and invent devices that build on an atomic level the next.”
Hubert recently began an electronics company in Cambridge and has big dreams for nanotechnology. He hopes to revolutionize the way electronics is produced.
“Electronics is changing people’s lives. The field is no longer micro, but nano, and this extends into biology as well. Someday, I’d like to begin a number of anti-disease facilities and hire the best and brightest people to find solutions to problems like aging and cancer.”
He says his wish for the world is that all people would try to dream up just one idea that could help others. “Believe it or not,” he says, “you could change the world by yourself just by coming up with one novel solution to a problem. For example, the next time you’re in traffic, ask yourself what one thing could I do to solve this problem?”
On this day, he is about to board a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, and he has a thought which just might become another invention. “Wouldn’t it make sense if the whole nose of the plane rolled opened, rather than boarding everyone through one tiny door?” he says, adding “then you could load the whole plane in about three minutes.”
It’s just one more idea Hubert will make a point to write down.