Nature provides the inspiration for the new electronic materials Belcher creates.
Professor Angela Belcher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has just been awarded the prestigious $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, for researchers who make the world a better place with their technological inventions.
Professor Belcher, one of the world’s foremost experts in nanotechnology, finds inspiration in nature’s ability to create materials – one example is the snail growing its own shell – and, in the laboratory, she designs new electronic materials with a wide range of applications: solar cells, environmentally-friendly batteries, medical diagnosis systems and many others.
Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program says, “Angela Belcher is an extraordinary inventor. She has taken a single idea and applied it to develop a remarkable portfolio of inventions that span a multitude of industries and will ultimately benefit business, society and the environment.”. 
Angela Belcher was motivated to embark on her research career after thinking about by the abalone, a type of sea snail, which attracted her attention when she was spending time by the ocean while still an undergraduate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. This was eventually to become the subject of her PhD dissertation.
Angela Belcher explains how she applies observation of nature in her work as an inventor (in English).
The abalone shell consists of 98% calcium carbonate, an inorganic compound, and 2% organic protein. This combination makes the shell extraordinarily strong. The MIT Biomolecular Materials Group headed by Belcher is now researching into how marine life evolved to the point of producing such hard materials from its environment. They are applying this “bio-inspiration” in their attempt to induce biological materials to “work” with inorganic materials, such as those pertaining to electronics.
One of her latest inventions is a lithium-ion battery powered by engineered viruses. These batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as the most advanced (rechargeable) batteries which are presently being considered for use in plug-in hybrid cars. Their particular characteristics suggest they could also be used for powering personal electronic devices.
Angela Belcher has also applied the results of her research to improve the efficiency of the low-cost Grätzel cell (or dye-sensitised solar cell, DSSC) using genetically engineered viruses for greater efficiency when collecting electrons in the cells. This would represent a 33% improvement in energy production. This method adds only one step to the standard manufacturing process for solar panels, which means that the sector could very quickly benefit from the new technology.
Professor Belcher devotes some of her time to lecturing to students from all around the world, talking about science and showing them experiments with the aim of stimulating their curiosity. Convinced that it is essential to encourage a passion for technology, engineering and mathematics among children, since these are the basic areas of knowledge by means of which solutions may be found for many global problems, including those related to energy, health and food resources (challenges that the coming generations will have to keep confronting), she has decided to allocate part of the prize money for developing a programme to stimulate interest in this kind of scientific training among young people.
Professor Belcher has co-founded two companies with a view to developing and making profitable the results of her scientific research. One of these works on electronic materials to produce transparent coatings for touch screens, LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and other devices. The second company converts low-value methane gas into high-value transportation fuel.
 Cited by Rob Matheson, (2013). “ Belcher Wins $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize”, MIT News,June 4. http://mitei.mit.edu/news/angela-belcher-wins-500000-lemelson-mit-prize.
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