Mervyn Chen (Date of Birth: 10th Jan 1945)
Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 2
Mervyn Chen was the top prizewinner in the Process Category of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Innovation and Invention in 2000. He designed and patented the Thru-Tube Backsurging Tool, which is now in use in the American oil industry. In 2002, he designed and patented a Downhole Magnetic Pump for oil extraction that would make costly, bulky pumping jack units obsolete. The technology is currently used in the USA, on a long-term trial basis. He also developed a method to generate electricity using well pressures, which also has a US patent pending.
Mervyn Chen was born on 10th January, 1945 in Dow Village, California, Trinidad. He attended San Fernando Boys’ R.C. and Presentation College, San Fernando. At school, he was fascinated by physics because he was curious about how things worked.
He attended Sacramento City College in California, USA from 1964 to 1966 and was accepted by the University of Illinois to pursue architecture but was forced to return to Trinidad and Tobago in 1966 due to illness. Despite this, he never lost his passion for design or his industriousness. Even as he assisted his father with the family bakery, Chen opened a printery in 1967 and later diversified into a company that made steel products, rented out equipment, and carried out photo finishing. In the mid-80s, he sold his company and immigrated to the United States, where he started another manufacturing company specialising in steel products, and completed significant work for Coca Cola, the US Corps of Engineers, Disney, and the Marriott Hotel.
While on a visit to Trinidad and Tobago in 1990, a friend of his mentioned that petroleum companies had difficulties keeping their oil wells clean. Intrigued by this problem that no one could fix, Chen did extensive research and experimentation to design a tool for this purpose. A prototype was developed and tested in Trinidad and in 1992, he obtained his first local patent for the Thru-Tube Backsurging Tool. The invention successfully increased oil production and he sold the license in 2002 to a US company.
Chen also developed a water-making device, which uses the principle of condensation to extract water from the atmosphere. He also designed, manufactured and sold clocks and mobile toys in the US. Currently, he is working on two automated machines for the construction industry, a device for the electrical industry, a walking aid for the disabled, and equipment to assist in the relief of floods.
Mervyn Chen reveals that his inventions start by him simply being constantly aware of his surroundings and looking for solutions to problems and easier ways of doing things. When he is not inventing, he enjoys fishing and practises the ancient art of bonsai.
This self-made innovator epitomises his words of advice: “if you don’t have someone to teach you, teach yourself;” and lives by his motto: “desire, attitude and discipline.” He advises students that “invention is always easy; the difficulty is determining what the problem is;if you pay close attention, you can see the solution to the problem.”