Former student wins invention award with ‘bright’ idea

Patrick Walsh with a recent prototype of his LED lamp. Photo courtesy of Scott Martin

Patrick Walsh with a recent prototype of his LED lamp. Photo courtesy of Scott Martin

By Missy Smith

Though new to campus last year, the Lemelson-Illinois Student Prize is an unrestricted cash gift of $30,000, awarded to recognize outstanding innovation and creativity among students.

To most students, a no-strings attached grant of $30,000 would be cause for celebration. To Patrick Walsh, a University alumnus who graduated last December, it is yet another honor; another grant in a long line of free money that totals to date almost $100,000.

In addition to the Lemelson-Illinois award, Walsh has received the Mondialogo Engineering award and also won the V. Dale Cozad Business Plan competition. He also received grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance for his work creating a battery-powered solar-charged light-emitting diodes (LED) lamp to help revolutionize lighting in developing nations such as India.

“The amazing thing is that over one billion people still use kerosene lamps and candles, something most people would think had been relegated to the 19th century,” Walsh said. “They are ubiquitous over there, but it is all around terrible technology.”

Walsh said as a country, India roughly uses about 5 percent of their income on fuel. He added that the fumes are noxious and cause respiratory illnesses and can easily burn down their homes accidentally.

Walsh said he based his idea off of a tiny solar-powered garden light he had seen.

He has since been trying to develop his lamp to make it affordable for people in developing nations.

“It is certainly not a new idea, but the award I got was for improving previously existing technology.” Walsh said. “There are a number of competitors that have similar products that we thought weren’t fitting people’s needs, that were too expensive or impractical. I have been working to making the lights affordable and developing it into something that people would want to buy.”

Dory Quinlan, freshman in ACES, said she thinks it is worth the effort to bring technology to developing nations.

“If they want it, then I think that it is really awesome that we can provide it for them,” Quinlan said. “It would be better for them because it would be reusable and (they) wouldn’t have to waste as much resources.”

Quinlan said that while she is not entirely environmentally friendly, she is all for developing reusable and renewable things.

Rhiannon Clifton, assistant director at the Technology Entrepreneur Center, said Walsh is an interesting student who has won an immense amount of money in various prizes and grants around the world.

“The Lemelson-Illinois grant is awarded for outstanding innovation and invention,” Clifton said. “It is awarded to a person that demonstrates these qualities. Patrick looked around and saw his surroundings. He saw that over 1.6 billion people still use kerosene lamps, and made a solution.”

Clifton said Walsh has recognized the potential global impact of a relatively simple product.

The Lemelson-Illinois award is open to any undergraduate or graduate who is enrolled as a full-time student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the official Web site, it is open to any student regardless of college, department or major.

“A lot of times, only engineers will apply,” Clifton said. “We are trying to reach out, though. We look for a broad range of applicants, and whether they be in ACES or Business, we think that a lot of our students are very innovative and creative. We hope to showcase all of the wonderful talent at the University of Illinois.”

For more information on this award, please visit the Web site, http://30kprize.uiuc.edu/.