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Feature: Amy Smith, The Barefoot Engineer

THE BAREFOOT ENGINEER

amy smithEmpowering the poor to find their own solutions — an article from the November 2009 issue of ASEE’s Prism magazine by Don Boroughs.

She earned a MacArthur “genius” grant for her inventions. Her mechanical engineering courses at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are frequently oversubscribed by 200 percent. So when you ask Amy Smith to name the most interesting device she has tinkered with, you might expect to hear about some extraordinarily complex machine. Instead, she waxes enthusiastic about a simple metal ring that poor farmers in Africa and Latin America use to shell corn from the cob.

With Amy Smith, expect the unexpected. She asks her MIT students to live on $2 a day, as half the world’s population must do to survive. She teams Ph.D. physicists and engineering students from elite universities with illiterate mechanics and farmers from Guatemala or Ghana to design useful gadgets. The daughter of an MIT engineering professor, she eschews the tenure track and even declined an honorary doctorate. She has never driven a car, yet is the driving force behind an expanding series of mechanical engineering courses at MIT, collectively known as D-Lab.

Smith’s work encompasses 100 scattered projects in the pursuit of a single goal: using simple technology to lessen the burden of the rural poor. “I believe that there is a need for us to focus on solving the world’s most difficult problems,” she argues – problems that affect “the billions of people who don’t have safe water, sanitation, and enough food to eat.”

Read the full article in the November 2009 Prism.

3 Responses to “Feature: Amy Smith, The Barefoot Engineer”

  1. […] Technology movement and the inventions it has spawned, check out this blog. Also, be sure to read our profile of MIT mechanical engineering professor Amy Smith, founder of the school’s D-Lab, which […]

  2. […] Technology movement and the inventions it has spawned, check out this blog. Also, be sure to read our profile of MIT mechanical engineering professor Amy Smith, founder of the school’s D-Lab, which offers […]

  3. […] Technology movement and the inventions it has spawned, check out this blog. Also, be sure to read our profile of MIT mechanical engineering professor Amy Smith, founder of the school’s D-Lab, which offers […]

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