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The importance of being inventive.

The importance of being inventive

Browsing at the Patent and Trademark Office's National Inventors Expo, held last week in Arlington, Va., was like sampling a mail-order catalog from Alice's Wonderland. At one booth, an earnest inventor extolled the virtues of a system for scavenging anesthetic gas during surgical operations, while nearby another demonstrated a portable cello that folds up into a package just a little larger than a toolbox. There were more than 50 inventors at the show, all holding recent patents and hoping to attractive the world's attention.

Many of the displayed inventions are rooted in the simple frustrations of everyday life. Is the stereo too loud when you answer the telephone? William P. Hammond of Kirkwood, Mo., has an electronic device that automatically turns down the sound when the telephone rings or when you dial out.

Do your cats protest and scratch when you try to powder or spray them? Rod O'Connor, a chemistry professor and founder of Texas Romec, Inc., in college Station, Texas, has come up with "d'flea," a liquid-dispensing comb. While the animal is soothingly groomed, a flea-killing liquid oozes from the comb's porous nylon teeth.

Having trouble splitting wood for your cozy fireplace? Harry A. Thor's "Easy Motion" wood splitter, sold from his home in Vestal, N.Y., may be the answer. Just raise a sliding 5-pound weight to the top of a steel guide tube; then let it fall. The plummeting "hammer" drives a steel wedge fastened to the tube's lower end into the wood. A spring in the wedge assembly reduces the impact shock.

Other inventions are just plain fun. The "Gravikord" looks like a steel and wire model of a suspension bridge, but in reality it's a new musical instrument. Invented by Robert Grawi of White Bear Enterprises in New York city, the instrument is the electronic descendant of the African kora or double harp. This vertically held, lap-supported instrument has small handlebars that free a musician's thumbs for strumming its 25 strings to generate ripples of metallic sound.

And some inventions are hard to categorize. Roy L. Lundgren of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., wants to tap the energy in pedestrian traffic. His "pedestrian energy transfer system" consists of thin pads that contain several rocker arms mounted on shafts. When people walk over the device, which can be hidden under a carpet, the rocker arms are pushed down and drive the shaft. At the expo, a rapidly hopping child generated enough power to set two electric fans spinning.

James O. Coon Jr. of Alachua, Fla., has come up with a low-cost, low-volume machine for placing inserts into newspapers or similar publications. Unlike the complex insert machines now available, says Coon, his invention is simple and cheap.

In conjunction with the expo, five inventors were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, bringing the number of inductees to 64. The inventors honored this year are Harold E. Edgerton for the invention of the stroboscope, Wilson Greatbatch for his cardiac pacemaker, Luther Burbank for his Elberta peach plant patent, and Ernest H. Volwiler and Donalee L. Tabern for the development of the anesthetic Penthothal.
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Title Annotation:National Inventors Expo
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 22, 1986
Words:521
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