Sam Shames: Becoming an Energy Entrepreneur

The Energy Minor is graduating its largest class! Read about our graduates as part of this special commencement series.

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Leda Zimmerman, MIT Energy Initiative Correspondent

As we come to the end of the Energy Studies Minor's fifth year, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) would like to highlight our 2014 Energy Studies Minor (ESM) seniors. Thirty-four members of the class of 2014 are on track to graduate with the Minor, making this by far the largest cohort to-date. Our students exemplify the strength and diversity of MIT undergraduates. The graduating ESM class includes majors in five Engineering departments, plus SHASS, Sloan, and the School of Science. And, forty percent of our graduating ESM seniors are women. We are so proud of their accomplishments here at MIT, and look forward to continuing to hear of their journeys once they have passed through the doors on June 6th. Congratulations to all of our Energy Studies Minors!

Sam Shames Sam Shames, MIT Energy Minor
Class of 2014
Photo: Justin Knight

While converting vegetable oil waste from his high school cafeteria into biodiesel fuel for a student-run project, Samuel Shames saw how “chemistry applies to real life and can be used in cool ways.” But he also appreciated the larger lesson: “When given autonomy, you can take control of your own learning.”

At MIT, Shames quickly sought opportunities to steer his education toward sustainable energy. He signed up for the energy studies minor as soon as he could. He chose his major because he believed that “materials science will make or break the energy crisis.” Shames says, “I saw all the incredible research in energy going on in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) and thought it was a natural fit.”

Shames found his niche in the lab of Associate Professor Jeffrey C. Grossman, investigating a solar thermal fuel that could more efficiently de-ice a car windshield. This research led to partnership with a major auto manufacturer. During the same period, Shames completed his undergraduate thesis a year ahead of schedule, earning him the distinction of being the first junior in DMSE history to win its award for outstanding senior thesis.

Shames and two colleagues from the Grossman Group soon found themselves engaged in what he describes as “the ultimate Energy Studies Minor problem”: how to heat and cool people in a way that helps save energy. They wondered why it was necessary to warm or air condition an entire building if you could instead heat or cool individuals. They entered their concept, a wrist bracelet with solid-state thermal electric circuitry that refreshes or warms its bearer, into a prototyping competition sponsored by DMSE. “Wristify” won the ten thousand dollar first prize, and a company was born.

Shames credits his energy minor classes with providing a perfect combination of scientific, engineering, marketing, and policy know-how for undertaking this venture. “I don’t think I’d be in as strong a position to understand or address the problems involved with creating and marketing the device without the Energy Studies Minor,” he says.

While Shames feels the continued appeal of academic research and graduate school, the prospect of entrepreneurship beckons. “I love the experience of learning something new. At the same time, creating things other people find valuable, that’s incredibly exciting.”

Sam Shames is a senior in Materials Science and Engineering. He has been a four-year member of the wrestling team and was a four time All-American and National Champion. He has worked as a UROP in the Grossman Group and as a TA for multiple materials science classes. After graduating, Sam will be working full-time at Wristify. Sam recently ran in the 2014 Boston Marathon as part of the MIT Strong team.