A two-week joint trip to Africa shadowing nurses and physicians in local hospitals opened the eyes of Rice University Professors of Bioengineering, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden to the immense need for basic healthcare technologies in the developing world. They realized how much potential there was for their students – the next generation of inventors – to design medical devices that could truly transform health care in that setting.

After returning to the U.S., Drs. Richards-Kortum and Oden developed Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB), a unique engineering design initiative at Rice where they collaborate with undergraduate students to invent and implement health innovations for those in resource-poor communities. Since its establishment in 2006, BTB has launched more than 58 affordable health technologies that are helping 45,000 people in 24 countries.

BTB Logo

Yesterday, in recognition of their revolutionary program, Drs. Richards-Kortum and Oden were named joint recipients of the 2013 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. The prestigious award honors individuals whose technological innovations improve the lives of impoverished people in the developing world. It also establishes inventor role models who can inspire youth to solve challenges in the developing world through invention.

“Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden provide an ideal example of how our impact can be multiplied when we invest the time to excite and empower our youth to invent,” said Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program.

As mothers with 10 children between them, many innovations that come out of BTB focus on youth. Here are just a few… technologies that mean the difference between life and death for so many people around the world:

Lab-in-a-Backpack designed by BTB studentsLow-Cost Bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure: System making it easier for premature newborns in respiratory distress to breathe

DoseRight Oral Syringe Clip: Device that governs how much fluid can be drawn up into a syringe,  preventing inaccurate dosing of liquid medication common in the delivery of AIDS-fighting drugs

Global Focus Microscope: Portable microscope using a battery-operated LED-based flashlight as the light source that achieves the same magnification in fluorescence mode for one-tenth of the cost as those which are research-grade; used to quickly diagnose diseases such a tuberculosis

Mentorship is at the core of the approach Professors Richards-Kortum and Oden take for innovation. Their shared belief that it doesn’t take advanced degrees to impact the world has led them to tailor BTB’s collegiate curriculum for both high school and middle school students as well.

As if these two Women You Should Know are not inspiring enough, Drs. Richards-Kortum and Oden will donate all of their personal prize money from the Lemelson-MIT Award to the Day One Project. Every penny of their $100,000 will be used to renovate the neonatal ward at BTB’s partner hospital in Malawi.

To fully comprehend the impact that Drs. Richards-Kortum and Oden have made on their students and the global communities they help, we encourage you to watch this video.