BFI celebrates the life and mourns the passing of Professor Burt Swersey, who served as a lecturer in the
School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering for more than 25 years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was a vital source of inspiration and encouragement to the team at Ecovative, Winners of the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.
As Eben Bayer, Ecovative Co-Founder and CEO shared:
“A trimtab is a tiny part of the rudder on large ships, it moves the rudder, and that moves the ship. A small force applied at the trimtab can move a tremendous mass. A tremendous force applied in such a way can move the world.
Buckminster Fuller once said ‘Call me Trimtab’. He envisioned himself a force to move our society and planet. What a wild idea.
Burt had an even wilder idea. An idea that only Burt could imagine. He didn’t want to be the Trim-tab, not enough would get done. He wanted to create Trimtabs. Hundred’s of them. That would purposefully innovative and create, and in doing so, improve the lives of billions upon billions of people.”
This statement was released by RPI:
“Professor Swersey holds 14 U.S. patents and was the founder of
Brookline Instrument Company in 1962 and American Scale Corporation in
1973. He is the recipient of several recognitions, including the 2007
Olympus Lifetime of Educational Innovation Award for his dedication to
innovative thinking and his commitment to students and learning, the
2012 David M. Darrin ’40 Counseling Award from Phalanx, the Rensselaer
student leadership honor society, which recognizes a faculty member
who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of
undergraduate students, and the 2014 Sustainable Practice Impact Award
from the Lemelson Foundation and the National Collegiate Inventors and
Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), now known as VentureWell, an award
recognizing companies or an individual demonstrating outstanding
achievement in developing clean technologies, implementing sustainable
practices in their businesses, or providing exceptional education
opportunities to university students.
Prior to joining Rensselaer, Professor Swersey was a successful
innovator in the medical field. He developed a number of important
inventions, including an extremely accurate scale to weigh patients,
together with bed and instrumentation, revolutionizing the treatment
of water loss in patients with severe burns. Throughout his career at
Rensselaer, Professor Swersey taught the ideals and methods of
innovation and served as a role model to students. Many of these
students have made significant impacts, either as entrepreneurs or as
product designers for well-established companies, accumulating patents
and business plan competition awards.
Professor Swersey taught the Inventor’s Studio course, of which he was
principal architect, at Rensselaer for the past 15 years. More
recently, he had introduced a popular new course, How To Change the
World, which pushes students to identify and design ways in which they
can use technology to economically better the lives of many around the
world. Recognized by Inc.com in 2009 as among the best
entrepreneurship courses in America, the Inventor’s Studio course, a
semester-long capstone design experience for engineering seniors,
helps students learn to identify, understand, and solve open-ended
problems. Student work in the course has resulted in five patents,
with several more pending. One notable project, by former Rensselaer
students Eben Bayer ’07 and Gavin McIntyre ’07, became Ecovative
Design, which makes biodegradable packing products for companies
including Dell and Steelcase. Professor Swersey continued to work with
them as a mentor and investor in the company after their graduation.
Professor Swersey pushed students to exceed their dreams, both in the
classroom and in their business ventures. His ability to motivate and
engage students, and his dedication to student advising, counseling,
and mentoring was unequaled. He had a passion for educating the next
generation of innovators on how to identify problems and needs, and
seek creative solutions so that they can have a positive impact on
Our thoughts are with the family, friends, and thousands of students who have known and worked with Professor Swersey.