Jerome Lemelson was a restless dreamer and tinkerer who filled his notebooks with ideas that became the gadgetry of modern life. Barcode scanners. A video filing system. The mechanism that made the Sony Walkman work. A new and improved propeller beanie.

Lemelson died in 1997 with more than 600 patents to his name. He left behind a foundation dedicated to supporting young inventors, and a $500,000 annual prize for a mid-career inventor who had changed the world. “Every new American inventor,” he once said, “is a potential new American business.”

Researchers at RAND showed how true that can be. They measured the impact that each winner of Lemelson's prize has had—the markets they moved, the jobs they created, the dollars they put in the bank. They found that getting more people from more backgrounds excited about inventing could be a very smart investment.

“We wanted to highlight the importance of invention, the importance of engaging students,” said Benjamin Miller, an economist at RAND who led the study. “One of the points we make is that if you want to maximize the benefits to society, you need everybody to have a chance to be the best inventor they can be. There's a whole pool of people we're missing out on because they're not being engaged.”

Sangeeta Bhatia wanted to create an artificial micro-liver using live human cells. To do that, she needed those liver cells to behave like liver cells even outside of the body—to organize themselves into stripes on the etched glass plates she had prepared for them. But the view through her microscope was always the same: nothing. “I found 100 ways for it not to work,” she says now.

Read the full article about diversity and inclusion in invention by Doug Irving at the RAND Corporation.