Russ Prize

Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize
Ohio University Recognizes a Dedication to Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering of the National Academies established the Russ Prize in 1999 at the request of Ohio University. The prize is named in honor of Ohio University graduate Fritz Russ, an esteemed engineer and founder of Systems Research Laboratories, and his wife Dolores Russ, a long-time supporter and benefactor of the engineering industry.

Modeled after the Nobel Prize, the Russ Prize recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of engineering. It was established to honor the profession of engineering as well as attract more men and women to the field. The award focuses on engineering that has had a significant impact on society and has contributed to the advancement of the human condition through wide spread application.

Currently, the Russ Prize recognizes achievement in bioengineering, a field of critical importance. The prize serves to encourage the engineering and medical/biological professions to work closely together. The Russ Prize is one of the engineering worlds highest honors, awarding winners $500,000 and a gold medallion. NAE members and non-members worldwide are eligible to receive the Russ Prize.

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Carrie Lembach: The turkey story, I love.
Man_1: On the day after Thanksgiving of ’81, he came into his lab with some leftovers from his turkey.

Sandra Belmont: And they were experimenting with this technology – this excimer laser –

James Wynne: and with his expertise in photochemistry and polymer science, he recognized that the laser was photoetching the plastic, pulse by pulse.

Rangaswamy Srinivasan: Because I knew proteins – because that was my PhD work – so it just came back to me, if that plastic can be drilled and so on, it should also work on tissue.

JW: And he irradiated the cartilege and made the first incision in the piece of tissue that wasn’t a fingernail or hair.

CL: I feel like all good things in medicine come from someone who has a crazy idea, and they just decide to try it.

SB: And the results were, yes, this technology can precisely remove microns of tissue on human tissue.

RS: The idea that you could use a laser to make a neat cut like this and leave everything behind, that was incredible.

JW: I realized that we ought to have the best tools in our group, and this excimer laser would be such a tool, so I got funding and I bought one and I told the people in my group, including Sri, “Look at this great new tool of ultraviolet light. Think about using it.”


Charles Vest: The 2013 Fritz J. and Delores H. Russ Prize recipients are Dr. Rangaswamy Srinivasan, James J. Wynne, and the late Samuel E. Blum.


Wojciech Jadwisienczak: We are celebrating 50 years of of the first laser demonstrations and this is the right time to recognize people who use lasers for many different applications.
RS: It has been known for maybe about 150 years that Sun gives light – visible light – but also ultraviolet light. It turns out ultraviolet light is the more powerful, because it is more energetic.
JW: Lasers were already being used for retinal surgery from the dawn of lasers, and those lasers would produce therapeutic scar tissue.

CL: So lasers that they had worked with prior would do a good job, but they would surround – destroy everything in its pathway.

SB: The technique was involving the removal of the cornea, taking it to a very large machine that would freeze it, then we had to defrost it and suture it back onto the patient’s eye. It would take months for these patients to see, and it was pretty labor-intensive and technically difficult to perform. The excimer laser is an ultraviolet laser that within seconds painlessly and precisely removes – or “ablates” is the term – a portion of the cornea, only microns of the cornea to change the curvature of it.

CL: What the excimer laser does is it’s very precise. So in lasik or PRK, you’re able to do this corneal reshaping without causing any collateral damage.

SR: And that’s why it has this precision, because light can be focused.


Bernard Meyerson: There are lots of unique things you can do. You can pop balloons in midair with a laser. That doesn’t matter. It’s cute. But to actually reshape the surface of an eyeball, that’s extraordinary.

SB: Within seconds, a patient sits up from the table after having the procedure done and says, “I can’t believe it! I can see the clock. I never saw that before.”

CL: This technology has affected so many people, and for the people who have had it done, it’s quite frankly changed their lives.

SB: I have performed this procedure on many patients that are in the military, and really can’t function without their dependence on the glasses or contact lenses.


Dennis Irwin: The goal of the Russ Prize is really to encourage the next generation of engineers, and particularly, the next generation of engineers who will bring together the disciplines of medicine and biology and engineering.

Lance Davis: Bioengineering is actually the newest and the most promising field of engineering for the future.

JW: The Russ Prize is it. That’s the – absolutely the top prize that I know of for that field.

WJ: I believe that the Russ Prize is like a Holy Grail to many researchers trying to put their footprint in the engineering field.

LD: Well, I think it’s really important to celebrate advances in engineering, so that the public understands what engineering does. It improves their quality of life.

SR: There were other prizes that – to which I had tried – and then I have got these prizes, which are little prizes, not on the scale of the Russ Prize. So the Russ Prize is in a class by itself.


BM: There are those who have tremendous wealth as a consequence of their technical achievements, and they are smart enough to recognize the responsibility they have back to society, to create that next generation.

DI: He formed his own company in 1955. He and his wife Dolores dug the footers for their original building, which still stands and they effectively have adopted the Russ College of Engineering Technology as their children.

LD: The Russes, I think, were very, very gracious, kind and far-thinking ahead to do this.

DI: Fritz taught me one thing that I will never forget, and that is to plan for decades in the future.

WJ: The Russ Family Foundation really brings all this together, where the life commitment to the engineering, to creating for good can bring joy as well as benefit to people who care for others.


BM: An innovator goes beyond just the obvious and looks for where this would actually move the needle. We have a way of describing things like this. We describe them as innovations that matter.

DI: One of the characteristics of recipients of the Russ Prize is that the invention that they’re responsible for actually is still in widespread use, and that really means that people are creating things for the future. And the fact that it has to have high impact on a large number of people means that effectively, it’s creating for the world, and so here at the Russ College, we call that “create for good.”

SB: Well, I think that they epitomize the concept of creating for good because of their technology now that was devised within a laboratory, and now is out for the whole community to be able to benefit from and to change their lives dramatically.

JW: We have created for good by inventing something that made it possible to improve human sight, to give people super-human vision, to unleash the full potential of the retina.

SR: The turkey experiment was in 1981, and we are now talking 30 years later, millions of people being affected. There’s no way that could have been planned. So, I can only say that it is a godsend, shall we say? That’s the way I would look at it.

CL: It’s wonderful to see that the people who have affected so many people are honored for their work, and we recognize and we’re thankful for what they’ve done.

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