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October 24, 2003

Media Contacts: UCSD, Kim McDonald (858) 534-7572
National Inventors Hall of Fame, Rini Paiva (330) 388-6160

Comment: Jamie Link (858) 534-8945, Michael Sailor (858) 534-8188


Jamie Link, a graduate student in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, has won the $50,000 grand prize in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Link, 25, was announced the grand prize winner yesterday in the final day of the competition in New York City for her development of dust-sized chips of silicon that allow scientists to rapidly and remotely detect a variety of biological and chemical agents, including substances that a terrorist might dissolve in drinking water or spray into the atmosphere. The invention of these tiny silicon chips, or “smart dust,” was made in the laboratory of Michael Sailor, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD and her graduate adviser, who will receive $10,000 from the Collegiate Inventors Competition for his role in the development.

Link was in the process of making a thin multi-layer film of porous silicon on a crystalline substrate when the silicon chip accidentally broke. She then observed that each piece—her smart dust—retained the properties of the original. The particles have been found to have a wide range of uses in medical diagnostics and research, environmental testing, drug delivery and countless other uses. For instance, Link can make her particles a particular color, then program them to detect a particular substance, such as a toxin. As the microscopic sensors find the toxin, they join together as a red spot to mark the toxic pollutant. The invention could have wide commercial use in research and medical laboratories—in performing rapid biochemical assays, screening chemicals for potential new drugs and testing air and water for toxic chemicals.

“I'm most excited about the environmental applications,” said Link, explaining that she is an outdoor enthusiast. “When I went down to Baja to test the polluted bay, I was shocked to see how dirty the water was. It made me realize how much we need tools like this.”

Link has always been interested in science, especially chemistry. After receiving her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Princeton University, she visited potential graduate schools. She decided on UCSD because of her lab group, where everyone is involved with chemical and biological sensors. “There's a large effort towards homeland defense at UCSD and we're developing basic chemistry for it,” she said.

“Jamie is a very creative and insightful scientist,” said Sailor, her graduate adviser and head of the lab. “She has a remarkable ability to combine concepts from materials science, biology, physics and chemistry into innovative new applications. I think her real talent lies in turning a concept into reality—to make it happen. Her smart dust invention is a testament to her ability to work hard to realize her dreams.”

When she’s not in her lab, Link enjoys being outdoors or making ceramics. She was raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, and her parents, Albert and Carol Link, still reside there. She hopes to continue her research once she receives her doctorate, but finds great satisfaction in teaching, as well. About her future, she added, “I'll be looking for a balance of both.”

The Collegiate Inventors Competition is an international competition designed to encourage college students to be active in science, engineering, mathematics, technology and creative invention. The competition, now in its 14th year, recognizes and rewards the innovations, discoveries and research by college and university students and their advisers for projects leading to inventions that can be patented.

This year, 155 entries were received from universities around the world. A first round of judges evaluated entries in order to select 15 finalists who competed for the grand prize award. The competition also awarded two $25,000 prizes in the graduate category and two $15,000 prizes in the undergraduate category. Because the work of the student inventors has a profound impact on the United States economy, the winners were invited to the New York Stock Exchange this morning to ring the opening bell.

“Collectively, these winners are an excellent example of what the Collegiate Inventors Competition encourages—curiosity and inventiveness that have led to ideas that could change our world,” said Patricia Hallberg, president and chief operating officer of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. “It’s been an honor to recognize this dedicated, wide-ranging group.”

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