Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation 1996

Discover Magazine Awards for Technological Innovation 1996 – includes list of judges

FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS THE DISCOVER MAGAZINE AWARDS for Technological innovation have been given in seven categories: Automotive & Transportation, Aviation & Aerospace, Computer Hardware & Electronics, Computer Software, Environment, Sight, and Sound. The seventh annual Discover Awards, presented on the following pages, have been expanded to include both an eighth category, the Editors’ Choice Award for Emerging Technology, and a $100,000 prize from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation to foster innovation.

The emerging technology award is given by the editors of Discover to the creator of a promising new innovation or technology that, by virtue of its “newness,” does not fit into any of the other award categories. The 1996 Editors’ Choice Award goes to Toyoichi Tanaka, a physicist at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and the chief science adviser to Gel Sciences in Bedford, Massachusetts, for the development of smart hydrogels. Imagine a bowl of Jell-O suddenly swelling to 1,000 times its volume or shrinking 1,000-fold. Smart hydrogels are a new class of soft materials that, in response to a tiny change in temperature or light, a solvent or another environmental stimulus, will swell up to several thousand times in volume or shrink that much. They can undergo these volume changes on a moment’s notice or slowly–whatever speed is designed into them.

Tanaka is trying to train these swell gels to release pharmaceuticals, like insulin, or suck up toxic wastes. The first product to incorporate a smart hydrogel is a golf shoe liner that expands to match the contour of the foot inside the shoe, the trigger being the foot’s temperature. Tanaka also wants to build artificial muscles out of smart hydrogels. “A muscle just expands and contracts,” says Tanaka, “and that’s what these gels are quite good at doing.”

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, an independent federal agency, put up the $100,000 fellowship for “an individual American who has improved, or is attempting to improve, the world through ingenuity and innovation.” The money is intended to help the beneficiary get his or her innovation to the next level. The Columbus foundation evaluated all the nominees for the Discover Awards and selected as the 1996 recipient one of the finalists in the Computer Hardware & Electronics category, Kensall Wise, an electrical engineer at the University of Michigan, who built tiny electronic probes for monitoring and stimulating nerve cells in the brain.

In 1996 more than 4,000 companies, universities, and research institutions were invited to participate in the DISCOVER Awards program. DISCOVER’S editorial staff pared down the hundreds of nominees to 34 finalists in the seven core categories and turned them over to outside judges to select the winners. The finalists came together on June 1 for an Academy Awards-style ceremony at Epcot, outside Orlando, Florida. The culmination of the ceremony was the presentation of the Editors’ Choice Award to Toyoichi Tanaka, along with a $5,000 prize donated by Apple Computer, and the presentation of the $100,000 Columbus fellowship to Kensall Wise.


GUTHRIE–First woman to race in the Indianapolis 500; former aerospace engineer. JAMES R.

HEALEY–Automotive editor, USA Today.

MARYANN KELLER–President, Society of Automotive Analysts.

SHIRLEY MULDOWNEY–Drag racer; three-time National Hot Rod Association World Champion.

DANNY SULLIVAN–Professional race car driver; 1985 winner of the Indianapolis 500.


BUZZ ALDRIN–Gemini and Apollo astronaut; walked on the moon during the first lunar landing.

DONALD FINK–Director of editorial operations, Aviation Week.

JIM LOVELL–Commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13; flew on Apollo 8, America’s first mission to the moon.

WALTER “WALLY” SCHIRRA–One of NASA’s original seven astronauts; flew Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft.

PATTY WAGSTAFF–Three-time winner and first woman recipient of the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship Award.


JIM HARTZ–Host of the PBS science series Innovation.

MICHAEL MILLER–Vice president and editor in chief, PC Magazine.

DAN MUSE–Executive editor, Family PC magazine.

PENN AND TELLER–Masters of magic; debunkers of New Age pseudoscience; computer gear experts (Penn is a columnist for PC Computing magazine).

GARY SHAPIRO–President, Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.


STEWART CHEIFET–Host/executive producer of the national PBS series The Computer Chronicles.

JOHN C. DVORAK–Nationally syndicated computer columnist for PC Magazine and MacUser.

ESTHER DYSON–Editor, RELEASE 1.0; president, EDventure Holdings; Forbes contributing editor.

ANITA K. JONES–Director of defense research and engineering, Department of Defense.

MARVIN MINSKY–MIT professor of computer science; pioneer of artificial intelligence.


KATHRYN FULLER–President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund; member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

DENIS HAYES–Chairman of the board, Green Seal; organizer, Earth Day 1970 and Earth Day 1990; president, Bullitt Foundation.

FRED KRUPP–Executive director, the Environmental Defense Fund.

THOMAS LOVEJOY–Counselor to the secretary for biodiversity and environmental affairs, the Smithsonian Institution.

MICHAEL McCLOSKEY–Chairman, Sierra Club; adjunct professor of public policy at the School of Natural Resources, University of Michigan.


HARRY BENSON–Award-winning photojournalist.

HANS FANTEL–Consumer electronics columnist, the New York Times.

DAVID FRIEND–Director of photography, Life magazine.

MARVIN KITMAN–Television critic; humorist; syndicated columnist for Newsday and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

GENE SISKEL–Nationally syndicated film critic; cohost of the Siskel and Ebert syndicated television show.


LOUISE BOUNDAS–Ice president and editor in chief, Stereo Review magazine.

RAY CHARLES–Jazz/blues singer, musician, and composer; recipient of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award.

MICHAEL GREENE–President and CEO, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, presenter of the annual Grammy Awards.

MAUREEN JENSON–Editor, Audio Video Interiors magazine; cohost of the national cable show That’s Home Entertainment.

TOMOTHY WHITE–Editor in chief, Billboard magazine; host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Timothy White Sessions; award-winning music journalist.


ROBERT FROSCH–John F. Kennedy Center of Government.

LESTER HOEL–Universiy of Virginia.

ROBERT HUGGETT–Environmental Protection “Agency.

JOHN KLEPPE–University of Nevada.

THOMAS LOVEJOY–Smithsonian Institution.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Discover

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group