Dean Kamen

Dean Kamen: Fostering Creativity

Published February 26, 2012

The next time you spot someone on a Segway, remember the name Dean Kamen, as he invented that human transporter. Pretty impressive, but there is so much more to this remarkable man and inventor — his list of accomplishments is astonishing. However, it is his goal of changing the national culture from one that primarily rewards sports and celebrity to one that values science and technology that resonates. Kamen believes deeply in the power of science and creativity. He is such a strong adherent that he created a nonprofit organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST is all about fostering creativity. From creativity comes invention, and from inventions flow patents. In Kamen’s case, many patents. The brilliant inventor estimates he currently holds over a thousand patents. But, it is the mission of inspiring young people to take an interest in science and technology that really fuels his endeavors. The man is dynamic, his enthusiasm infectious.

A device invented by Kamen was the first wearable infusion pump, created while he was still a college undergraduate. The pump had vital application in areas of chemotherapy, neonatology, and endocrinology. Kamen added more infusion devices, including the first insulin pump for diabetics, which was life-changing for patients. He has developed an advanced prosthetic arm for returning injured soldiers (for DARPA), a stent (for Johnson & Johnson), and a surgical irrigation pump (for C.R. Bard). He actively pursues inventions related to water purification, so vital to the world’s population. Kamen was the recipient of the 2000 National Medal of Science and Technology, which was presented by the President of the United States, and he has been handsomely recognized with numerous other prestigious awards.

Though Kamen’s days are filled with efforts to find ways to deal with failure and frustration, he is a firm believer in the importance of failure, since only by learning from failure is success achieved. This tenet is an important ingredient in fostering creativity in students. The founding of FIRST is therefore among Kamen’s most prized accomplishments. The FIRST robotics competition is now a nationwide event. This contest emphasizes following one’s own instincts and getting comfortable with frustration and failure. There are no rules for creating robots in the competition, no manuals, just a box of junk and a list of permissible items for purchase. Self-esteem is built through this process. Kamen emphasizes the importance of persistence, so he tells students: “Don’t give up.” He knows patience, determination, and curiosity will give the world unimagined inventions. We can’t wait.

ARCS 2012 Scientist of the Year Dinner honoring Dean Kamen will take place at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa on March 28, and will feature a FIRST Robotic Team demonstration. Patty Elkus is event chair. Tickets can be purchased online. 619.435.6482, arcsfoundation.eventbrite.com   Darlene G. Davies

Dean Kamen

Dean Kamen