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 talk

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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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