The Mal Iles Innovation Award

The Life of Mal Iles

Mal Iles was born in Cedar Rapids in 1954 and died unexpectedly in Ames in 1983 at the age of 28. He received a B.S. in physics from Iowa State University in 1978 and thereafter worked in the Ames Laboratory as an Assistant Physicist and later as an Associate Physicist. While with the Laboratory Mal took advanced courses in physics as a part-time student.

Mal Iles intellectual interests were broad, including, besides his work in the Ames Laboratory, lasers: he designed and built home-made lasers (this was before lasers became widely available); energy storage: he investigated magnetically confined, kinetic energy, storage rings (MCKESR). The MCKESR is a rapidly rotating ring, hundreds of meters in diameter, for storing energy for later use as electrical power. The MCKESR exploration was done in collaboration with John Hull, now at Argonne National Laboratory; space colonization: Mal invited Gerrard K. O'Neill of Princeton University, a prominent physicist and advocate of utilizing space resources, to give a university-wide lecture and visit with students and staff; in addition he was Advisor to the ISU L-5 Society; experimental clothing: Mal was a member of the ISU Mountaineering Club and was an avid climber; he invented and made survival clothing for use under extreme outdoor conditions. At the time of this death Mal was the electronics designer for MTEC Photoacoustics, a start-up company founded by John McClelland.


Mal Iles' non-scientific interests were varied also. Among other activities he attended one of the earliest space shuttle launches using an ISU Daily press pass. Based on this experience he wrote a long and highly regarded essay for the Daily entitled "Fear and Loathing on the Launchpad". He helped form an active Ames branch of the Libertarian Party, composed mostly of students. As Libertarian Party candidate Mal ran for State Representative from the 42nd District; he also attended the Libertarian National Convention as Iowa Delegate.


To summarize, Mal was a lively and active young scientist-inventor and the intent of the Mal Iles Innovation Awards is to honor his memory and to encourage physical science and engineering undergraduate students with interests and dreams of their own.

The Awards are supported by a fund established by Mal's father Malvern K. Iles and Mal's sister Lisa Paper. Students who have the desire to pursue their own innovative projects are encouraged to find a mentor supportive of their goals.

Articles by and about Mal

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