Innovation, invention, industry and impact

Day 2 was the tale of the four I’s innovation, invention, industry and impact.
All words we are aware of in the UK but the people I met at Northeastern University and MIT today are doing things a little bit differently.

From a bioengineering perspective I have already realised that it is a very heterogeneous landscape here in the USA. MIT have their very specific approach BU theres and Northeastern a different approach again.

Northeastern’s Department of Bioengineering was officially founded in January 2014, that’s not a typo that really was last month. Previously there has been, as in other institutions a lot of biomedical engineering research undertaken in different engineering Departments. When considering what ‘bioengineering’ is to Northeastern it is still an evolving entity, but what is special about Northeastern is their co-op and educational outreach programmes.


Their co-op programme is a 5 year undergraduate degree which involves three 6-month placements in industry. In total the students leave the programme with 18-months of work experience alongside their degree. Through these placements the students have the opportunity to experience different industries or to specialise in one discipline.

This system works well for Northeastern as it is a cross-University programme, they have the people and resources to support it and their location in Boston, surrounded by a number of big companies who can host students in this way. What will be interesting as the bioengineering undergraduate course develops will be how the biomedical engineers compete with the mechanical engineers and the electrical engineers who have, in the absence of biomedical engineers in the co-op scheme, been doing placements in orthopaedic companies, prosthetics, medical devices, etc.


The key points I got from my meeting with Claire Duggan from the Centre for STEM education were that there are a lot of similarities in the UK and US systems regarding the presence of ‘outreach’ in research grants. Students, both undergraduate and postgraduate are great ambassadors and role models for high school students, students when given freedom and support to create new outreach activities can be really creative. STEM outreach in the US is a crowded party that everyone wants to be at, the Centre for STEM education’s approach is through a series of programmes as a framework of delivery. For any HE pathway to impact fanatics reading this you’ll also be pleased to hear that the US have the Broader Impacts programme that is spreading through US Universities at the moment.


I also met with inventor and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Michael Cima while at MIT. Professor Cima is based in the innovative cancer engineering centre at MIT, known as the Koch Institute. Aside from leading research in the cancer engineering field, for the past 6 years Professor Cima has also been the Faculty Director of the Lemelson-MIT programme. He had a clear passion for encouraging invention or the inventors mind set in young people. The programme of activities run as part of the Lemelson MIT programme has grown over time with Inventeens, inventeams and a number of notable awards. I was interested in Professor Cima’s description about the importance of role model inventors for young people to aspire to be like, when they grow up, and how involvement in the programme doesn’t just give students the practical hands on inventing skills and outlook, but also role models at a number of levels to inspire them.

I will finish of this blog with some wise words from Professor Cima about, in his view the three things that make a great inventor/ innovator:
– curiosity: collecting solutions to problems they haven’t encountered yet
– empathy: uncanny ability to see problem from the users eyes.
– leadership: no one person has all the solutions, they have the ability to recruit the right people with the right skills to solve those problems.

‘Til next post

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