Amy Smith designs cheap, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. Among her many accomplishments, the MIT engineer received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004 and was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Prize for turning her ideas into inventions.

Why you should listen

Mechanical engineer Amy Smith's approach to problem-solving in developing nations is refreshingly common-sense: Invent cheap, low-tech devices that use local resources, so communities can reproduce her efforts and ultimately help themselves. Smith, working with her students at MIT's D-Lab, has come up with several useful tools, including an incubator that stays warm without electricity, a simple grain mill, and a tool that converts farm waste into cleaner-burning charcoal.

The inventions have earned Smith three prestigious prizes: the B.F. Goodrich Collegiate Inventors Award, the MIT-Lemelson Prize, and a MacArthur "genius" grant. Her course, "Design for Developing Countries," is a pioneer in bringing humanitarian design into the curriculum of major institutions. Going forward, the former Peace Corps volunteer strives to do much more, bringing her inventiveness and boundless energy to bear on some of the world's most persistent problems.

What others say

“Smith has a stable of oldfangled technologies that she has reconfigured and applied to underdeveloped areas around the world. Her solutions sound like answers to problems that should have been solved a century ago. To Smith, that's the point.” — Wired News

Amy Smith’s TED talks

Amy Smith on the TED Blog
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4 great talks for International Women's Day

March 8, 2009

To celebrate March 8, International Women’s Day, we suggest these four TEDTalks gems from some amazing speakers — artists, scientists and economists who think deeply about the role of women. Author and activist Isabel Allende discusses women, creativity, feminism — and the power of passionate thinkers and doers: The former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Ngozi […]

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Invention

New inventions from Amy Smith's students at IDDS 2008

August 22, 2008

While TED was on vacation last week, Amy Smith‘s second annual International Development Design Summit 2008 was raging at MIT. For four weeks at IDDS, some 50 students from more than 20 countries designed and built new tools that could improve quality of life in some of the world’s poorest communities. Among the projects: * […]

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Technology

PopMech's 2007 Breakthrough Awards

October 17, 2007

Some familiar TED faces and themes turn up in Popular Mechanics‘ 2007 Breakthrough Awards, published in the magazine’s November issue. Jeff Han‘s multitouch wall (watch his 2006 TEDTalk) and Hod Lipson‘s print-anything printer (related to his work on robots) are named as two of the awards’ “8 Bold Ideas” for 2007. If you were moved […]

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Quotes from Amy Smith

[Around the world], women and children spend 40 billion hours a year fetching water. That’s as if the entire workforce of the State of California worked full time for a year doing nothing but fetching water.
Amy Smith
TED2006 • 739K views Aug 2006
Inspiring, Ingenious
If this were India, in this room [of 1500 people], only three of us would have a car. If this were Afghanistan, only one person in this room would know how to use the Internet. If this were Zambia, 300 of you would be farmers, 100 of you would have AIDS or HIV.
Amy Smith
TED2006 • 739K views Aug 2006
Inspiring, Ingenious
It is necessary to have a very clear vision of the world that we live in … the world where women spend two to three hours every day grinding grain for their families to eat.
Amy Smith
TED2006 • 739K views Aug 2006
Inspiring, Ingenious