Public Release: 

Two female engineers at Yale on TR100 list of top young innovators

Yale University

Two of Yale Engineering's newest female faculty, Erin Lavik and Ainissa Ramirez, have been named to the 2003 list of the world's 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review, MIT's Magazine of Innovation.

The Technology Review 100 (TR100), chosen by the editors of Technology Review and an elite panel of judges, consists of 100 individuals under age 35 whose innovative work in technology has a profound impact on today's world.

Lavik and Ramirez will be honored September 24-25 at the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT. Nominees are recognized for their contributions in transforming the nature of technology in industries such as biotechnology, computing, energy, medicine, manufacturing, nanotechnology, telecommunications and transportation.

Lavik, an assistant professor in Yale's new interdisciplinary Biomedical Engineering Department, focuses her research on new approaches to repairing spinal cord injury and retinal degeneration. Ramirez, a materials scientist and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Yale, has developed novel materials for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) by exploring how materials thinner than a human hair behave mechanically; she has also discovered metals that can strongly bond with hard-to-bond surfaces, such as glass and diamond.

"We in Engineering are delighted with the well-deserved recognition that Erin and Ainissa have received," said Yale Dean of Engineering Paul Fleury. "Although they are at the beginning of their careers, their accomplishments are already substantial and their promise for the future is unlimited. They are the kind of innovative and enthusiastic young scholars that do credit to any institution."

Lavik's work is motivated by the 10,000 new spinal cord injuries each year in the United States, and the over one million people with conditions of retinal degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the industrialized world.

"We seek to create an environment that promotes repair using biodegradable polymers," said Lavik. "We can shape these polymers into structures which act as scaffolds to guide tissue formation as well as deliver drugs which promote repair. We have used such scaffolds seeded with stem cells in models of spinal cord injury and retinal degeneration and seen very promising early results."

Lavik has begun work in the retina using specially designed polymer scaffolds to promote stem cells to become photoreceptors, cells that convert light to signals the brain can understand. Photoreceptors are lost in many conditions of retinal degeneration. In the presence of the polymer scaffolds the stem cells are capable of aligning as they would in a healthy retina, and they take on physical characteristics of photoreceptors.

Ainissa Ramirez discovered what Technology Review called a "holy grail" of metallurgy: a universal solder that can bond metals to ceramics, glass, diamonds, and particularly the oxide materials used in semiconductor fabrication. Researchers have been seeking this kind of compound for decades because existing solders have failed in electronic and optical devices.

After earning a Ph.D. in materials science from Stanford and joining Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs in 1998, Ramirez found that mixing certain rare-Earth elements, particularly lutetium into solder metals vastly improves their bonding abilities. Her solder is the first to provide high-strength bonds between all inorganic materials, and will impact the electronics, optoelectronics and MEMS industries-as well as the jewelry trade.

"I think I've brought excitement to unsexy materials like solder," said Ramirez. "As a new professor at Yale, I plan to continue my efforts in improving understanding of materials on a small scale and to finding ways to get lay audiences excited about science."

At Bell Labs, she was pivotal in development of the world's best optical switch, and in expansion of understanding the physical behavior of materials thinner than a human hair.

A staunch advocate for improving the quality of science education, Ramirez has formed a consulting firm called Scienceworks, which is focused on changing the public's understanding of science. She has been published in Time magazine and has just completed a book titled, "Lessons from Molecules."

The Emerging Technologies Conference features keynotes, panels and breakout discussions on transformative technological innovations that have the potential to fuel new economic growth and dramatically change the future. More information can be found at www.etc2003.com.

The TR100 panel of judges include Vinton Cerf of Worldcom Corporation; David Tennehouse of Intel; Gordon Bell of Microsoft; Christina Lampe-Onnerud of TIAX; Stephen Quake of California Institute of Technology; Rodney Brook of MIT CSAIL; and George Whitesides of Harvard University.

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