Teen inventors: meet three teens and their amazing creations.
For centuries, people have been developing better ways to do things. Everything from the Popsicle to the computer and the iPod started as someone's bright idea.
Today, teens continue to make history with their ingenious inventions. Here are three young inventors whose creativity is making life a little easier for others.
ARTIFICIAL LEG COVER
Grayson Rosenberger, a 15-year-old from Tennessee, proved that you don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make something that changes lives. Using just Bubble Wrap, tape, and a heat gun, he invented an affordable cover for artificial legs.
Specially designed prosthetics (artificial body parts) can cost as much as $3,000 each. As a result, many people in the world can afford only basic metal rods to replace their lost limbs. But by using Grayson's technique of adding a layer of Bubble Wrap to the rod, and molding it with a heat gun, anyone can form a more realistic-looking leg.
Grayson's invention was inspired by a story that he heard from his parents, who are ministers. Both of them raise money to provide people in Ghana, West Africa, with basic prosthetics. They visit the country regularly to train local people how to fit the new limbs. "One of the people my parents fitted with a leg was a 15-year-old boy named Daniel," Grayson tells JS. "He broke his leg in soccer, but because the medical situation over there is so poor, he had to have his leg amputated Now he can walk, but he is made fun of on the street and at school because he has a fake leg."
Grayson, who is a sophomore at Franklin Road Academy High School in Nashville, Tennessee, has decided not to seek a patent for his invention, which costs less than $10 to make. In fact, he plans to train others how to use the same methods. "This summer I will teach at the prosthetic clinic in Ghana," he tells JS. It will be Grayson's first visit to Ghana, and his first opportunity to apply his ideas. "I am very excited, and I want to fit Daniel first."
HANDS ON HAND-CLAP GAME
Ana Lingenfelder, an eighth-grader from Hanover, Pennsylvania, won a top award at the 2006 Invent-a-Toy World Games. She got the idea for her invention during a class assignment at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. "Everyone had to brainstorm and come up with an invention," she tells JS. "I always liked playing hand-clap games but didn't always have someone to play with." So Ana invented the Hands On hand-clap game.
The game is an electronic board that players hang on a wall or hold on their laps. A pair of hands lights up when players clap against them in time to the music.
Ana says that she has "always loved thinking about toys, creating new toys, or changing existing toys. I really didn't know what to do with these ideas." Then she and her mother discovered By Kids for Kids (bkfk.com) online. The company manufactures and sells kids' inventions.
Before submitting her idea, Ana made a conceptual prototype--a model that shows how the final product will look. She hopes to get a patent for her invention.
When Andrew Sutherland's French teacher gave him a list of 111 animal names to memorize--in French--he hit upon a way to make memorizing fun. "'Man, I love doing this' was not what I was thinking," says Andrew, a junior at Albany High School in Albany, California. "Then I had the idea to apply my programming skills to the problem."
Andrew began to write a computer program that would take the grind out of test prep. That was almost two years ago. Now 17, he just launched a Web site featuring his final product: Quizlet, an online memorization tool.
To use Quizlet, you enter the data you need to memorize, be it vocabulary words, history dates, or science facts. Quizlet turns the information into flash cards, then generates tests. After you take a test, the program retests you on the questions you got wrong.
Andrew's free site is proving to be popular with students and teachers. "So far, it has more than 8,500 registered users, with about 160 more signing up every day," he tells JS.
Does Andrew plan to continue inventing? "Of course!" he says. "It's addictive. Once you create something really useful, all sorts of new ideas can spring from that one idea."
Andrew has some advice for would-be inventors. "Look at your everyday life, and invent something to improve it a little bit," he says. "If someone tells you something can't be done, try it for yourself first. You may surprise them."
Have you ever had a really good idea for a new product? To prevent ideas from being stolen, most inventors seek to patent their inventions. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that inventors should have "the exclusive right to their ... discoveries." Patent laws protect those rights by registering new inventions.
Inventors can file their applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO]. The application process is not easy, but Jon Dudas, Patent Office Director, has some encouragement for JS readers. "Teens are some of our best creators and innovators," he says. "I hope one day I will get to sign your patent." To learn more about patents, go to uspto.gov/go/kids.
Word to Know
* patent: a document granting an inventor sole rights to an invention.
Think About It
1. Name a few recent inventions. How have they changed daily life?
2. Think of an invention that would make gout life easier. Describe it. What materials would you need to create it?
Students should be able to:
* understand why there is no minimum age for creating useful inventions.
The inventors mentioned in the article's introduction are: Chester Greenwood (1858-1937), who, tired of cold ears while ice skating, invented earmuffs at age 15; Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971), who conceived of a prototype for a working television at age 14 and later built one; and Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who was 19 when he began work on what became the Pascaline, the first business machine and second mechanical calculator.
* Critical Thinking
USING CONTEXT CLUES: What motivated the three young inventors profiled in this article? (Grayson Rosenberger: learned of a need through his parents' work; Aria Lingenfelder: wanted to be able to play a game for two when alone; Andreu, Sutherland: needed an easy, fun way to memorize)
MAKING INFERENCES: Why do you think Grayson has chosen not to patent his technique for covering prosthetic legs? (People too poor for realistic-looking prosthetics would not be able to afford to pay permission fees required by patents.)
WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?: Have students choose one of the inventors listed at invent.org. (Go to the "Hail of Fame" link, far left, and search by inventor or invention.) Then prepare a brief presentation about the inventor. What sparked the idea? What steps did the inventor take to go from idea to reality?
SOCIAL STUDIES, GRADES 5-8
* Individual development and identity: Young people have the interests and skills to create inventions that will help others.
* Erlbach, Arlene, The Kids' Invention Book (Lerner Publishing Group, 1999). Grades 5-8.
* St. George, Judith, and Small, David, So You Want to Be on Inventor? (Penguin Group, 2002). Grades 5-8.
* Top-10 Most Popular Inventors inventors.about.com/od/inventorsalphabet/tp/popularinventor.htm
* Decide whether each sentence is true, false, or an opinion. Write your answer on the blank line provided.
--6. Grayson Rosenberger should patent his technique of covering prosthetic legs.
--7. Americans' "exclusive right" to their own inventions is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
--8. Andrew Sutherland invented Quizlet as a way to help himself with his French homework.
--9. The U.S. government should reward people who invent lifesaving devices.
--10. Ana Lingenfelder founded the Invent-a-Toy World Games.