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MULTIMEDIA AVAILABLE: http://www.businesswire.com/cgi-bin/mmg.cgi?eid=5136327 CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 3, 2006--James Fergason just wanted to know if his thermal sensor was actually working. In 1958, the young researcher at Westinghouse Research Laboratories began experimenting with liquid crystals and ended up paving the way for innovations ranging from forehead thermometers to mood rings, digital watches to computer monitors, and 3D video systems to flat-panel televisions.
Fergason, who holds more than 130 U.S. patents and more than 500 foreign patents, is being honored today with the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest cash prize given in the United States for invention. The award will be given during a private ceremony at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
"James Fergason's inventions are directly responsible for the creation of a multi-billion dollar liquid crystal display industry that employs millions of people around the world," said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which gives the annual award. "But those are not his only contributions to society. He is also a staunch advocate for independent inventors and has dedicated countless hours to this cause. We recognize his outstanding achievements in the awarding of this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize."
A Fact of Matter
Fergason did not discover liquid crystals, nor was he the first to experiment with them. However, he said he was "the first guy who saw what they were really good for."
As a young researcher, Fergason needed a way to measure the accuracy of a temperature-measuring device and he thought liquid crystals may be useful because of their sensitivity to temperature fluctuations and their ability to reflect colors. At that time, liquid crystals were a little-known academic curiosity with no clear, useful purpose.