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San Francisco State University scientist recognized as "unsung hero"



Ellen Griffin
SFSU Office of Public Affairs
(415) 338-6990
(415) 338-1665

Suzanne Fearon
The Kilby International Awards
00 44 208 715 6785
07905 864264 mobile



Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Kilby International Awards for those helping to change the world

Ralf Hotchkiss, a San Francisco-based innovator whose low-cost wheelchairs have helped thousands of people around the world regain their independence, is among five extraordinary individuals to be honored for their significant contributions to society with a prestigious Kilby International Award. The awards ceremony will take place at 9:30 a.m. Fri., Nov. 7 at the Royal Society in London, England.

As co-founder and technical director of Whirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI) at San Francisco State University, Hotchkiss -- who was paralyzed in a motorbike accident -- has established a worldwide network of wheelchair inventors/designers, users and manufacturers to address the need for wheelchairs in developing nations.

Hotchkiss' mission began in 1980 during a visit to Nicaragua in which he encountered three young men who shared a single wheelchair. Hotchkiss was struck that they "knew more about wheelchair design and repair than did many wheelchair designers in the United States at the time." In collaboration with these youth and other wheelchair users and builders all over the world, Hotchkiss focused on designing and building strong, durable, affordable wheelchairs for people in the developing world.

For his singular work and global impact, Hotchkiss has received myriad awards, including a prestigious "genius award" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1989.

The Kilby International Awards celebrate achievement in the fields of science, technology, innovation, invention and education and are seen as a precursor to other honors, including the Nobel Prize.

Along with Hotchkiss, this year’s laureates are:
Kilby Young Innovator: Janna Levin, PhD, a promising English theoretical physicist working on the theories of early universe, chaos and black holes.

Mamphela Aletta Ramphele, PhD, a physician and now one of four managing directors of the
World Bank who leads the organization's efforts to improve the health, education and social protection of poor people in the developing world.

Dame Bridget Ogilvie, DBE, ScD, FRS, director of England’s Wellcome Trust from 1991-1998, when it was the world’s largest medical research funding charity.

Onesmo K. ole-MoiYoi, MD, DSc (hc), EBS grew up in a traditional Maasai community, founded the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology-Africa and is currently director of research at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, where he plays a key role in the global fight against human, animal and plant diseases, and in environmental conservation and science education.

The Kilby awards were established to honor Jack St. Clair Kilby, inventor of the first monolithic integrated circuit -- the so-called "chip that changed the world.” He was in his early 30s when, in 1958, he invented the microchip. For many years, he received little recognition but in October 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

This year’s ceremony, in London, comes one day before his 80th birthday and the Foundation plans to mark the event with a series of educational broadcasts, called The Scholar-Chips.

Established in 1990, the Foundation has to date named more than 50 laureates worldwide. Past laureates include British-born Tim Berners Lee, who invented the World Wide Web and Richard Smalley, who went on to be awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Hosting this year’s awards is a distinguished UK committee, led by Jeremy Newton of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and including Barbara Hosking CBE; Derek Bell, director of the Association for Science Education; John Barrow from the Millennium Maths Project and Paul Atherton, entrepreneur and founder of Queensgate Instruments.

Lord Puttnam of Queensgate will deliver a keynote address at the awards dinner at London’s Reform Club.

Victoria Smith Downing, chairman of the Kilby International Awards Foundation, said: "The Kilby International Awards and the 55 laureates from some 23 countries validate the idea that everyone benefits when society values and nurtures individual creativity and linkages between science, technology, innovation and the arts.

"Through interactive broadcasts, we give young people an opportunity to talk to extraordinary role models -- the kind of people they could never normally meet. We hope to offer moments of sheer inspiration."

The new laureates will each present a lecture on Friday, Nov. 7 at the Royal Society, London, starting at 9.30 a.m.

To arrange an interview, please contact Suzanne Fearon on 020 8715 6785 or

You may also download print and Web quality images of Hotchkiss.


Student Writer Javier Jimenez assisted in writing this press release.

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Last modified November 7, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs