Young inventors are regularly making the news with brilliant contributions to science and technology.iStockPhoto
Guided by mentors and national competitions, young inventors are regularly making the news with brilliant contributions to science and technology. It won't be surprising if the cure for cancer comes from a teenager, especially given that last year, high school sophomore Jack Andraka invented a new method for detecting the pancreatic kind.
Angela Belcher, a professor of energy in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering who won the 2013 Lemelson-MIT $500,000 Prize for her inventions, knows how important it is to inspire young minds. In addition to mentoring, she's been involved in national design competitions for middle school and high school students. Over the summer she attended the Lemelson-MIT program's EurekaFest on campus, where teams from across the country presented unique solutions to real-world problems.
"Having these young, great people wanting to work on and solve technological issues to make the world a better place for the planet is exactly where we need to be," Belcher said. "It's our future."
Here she highlights some of her favorite tech to come from young inventors in the recent past.
18-year-old Eesha Khare invented a device that can fully recharge a cell phone battery within 20 to 30 seconds.Intel ISEF
Earlier this year 18-year-old Eesha Khare from Lynbrook High School in California made headlines with a device that can fully recharge a cell phone battery within 20 to 30 seconds. Her tiny supercapacitor contains a special nanostructure, allowing for greater energy per unit volume, she explained at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.
The device lasts for 10,000 charge cycles, 10 times what a typical battery can do. She received a $50,000 award from Intel that she planned to put toward her education at Harvard. The invention also earned her a spot on Conan O'Brien's show, where she explained that the device is a carbon fiber with metal oxides and complicated materials on it.
Belcher said she remembers reading about Khare's invention. "If you're thinking about the middle school and high school students getting involved in design competitions, it's fantastic," she said. "It gives me so much hope for the future."
A Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam from Sturgis West Charter Public School in Hyannis, Mass., created a transporter cart and sling that can help beached marine mammals.Sturgis West Charter Public School InvenTeam Blog
Many marine mammals, particularly dolphins, have gotten beached on the East Coast, prompting human intervention. The challenge then becomes getting the animal to a rescue center safely.
A Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam from Sturgis West Charter Public School in Hyannis, Mass., tackled the problem by inventing an improved transporter cart and sling that the students say can carry up to 600 pounds.
Made from lightweight aluminum tubing, beach wheels, a hand-crank and a custom mammal sling, the transporter can be set up in under a minute. It's also expected to cost less and be lighter than other rescue carts. The students presented their invention over the summer at the Lemelson-MIT program's EurekaFest event.
"Not only is it a safer and easier way to transport the animals, it also provides more information about the animal like how much it weighs so that better care can be given to the sick or injured animal," Belcher said.
Eleven-year-old Kenyan Richard Turere invented an LED light device to keep lions away from cattle.Paula Kahumbu
Eleven-year-old Kenyan Richard Turere was charged with caring for his family's herd of cattle but the animals were susceptible to attacks by hungry lions in the night. Noticing the lions stayed away when he used a flashlight to investigate, the enterprising boy came up with an invention called Lion Lights.
These LEDs attached to poles are programmed to flicker intermittently in the darkness to keep lions away. The lights work with a solar panel and an old car battery, and the boy has set up lights for his neighbors as well. Now a teenager, Turere gained international recognition for his invention and gave a TED Talk about it in Long Beach, Calif. earlier this year.
"He solved a problem that directly related to his family's well being and then scaled it to help his community," Belcher said. "It is also low-tech, well thought out and effective."
This teen-invented amphibious ROV lets rescuers search effectively under the ice for people or objects before sending humans into cold, deep and dangerous waters.Natick High School InvenTeam Blog
Another InvenTeam from the Lemelson-MIT program this year that caught Angela Belcher's attention was Natick High School’s remotely operated vehicle designed for local search-and-rescue dive teams in the Boston area.
This amphibious ROV lets rescuers search effectively under the ice for people or objects before sending humans into cold, deep and dangerous waters. An alpha prototype is a vehicle that can traverse land and ice. On the end is a boom and pulley system that deploys a submersible containing a live-feed camera. Then if the camera shows something or someone trapped underneath the ice, a diver can follow the submersible’s tether right down.
The students said their goal was to create a search-and-rescue machine that both increases safety for divers and increases the survival rate of drowning victims.
This team invented a portable emotive aid device that could help children with autism who have difficulty detecting and interpreting other people's emotions.Mark Ostow
Students from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam in Alexandria, Va., were inspired by advances in emotion-recognition technology.
The team of 15 high schoolers decided to work on a portable emotive aid device that could help children with autism who have difficulty detecting and interpreting other people's emotions. So the group invented a bracelet prototype that records and interpret speech in real time using a computational algorithm that extracts human emotional signatures.
The device detects happiness, sadness, anger and disgust, displaying the word and a corresponding emoticon for it on the bracelet's screen. Initial accuracy is 60 percent, but the system is designed to be trained so it can improve the longer it's used.
"This is meant to enhance the quality of social interaction because it gives the autistic child something they have trouble interpreting on their own, which is emotion," one of the team members told Time.com's Doug Aamoth. Belcher called the invention a neat way to help kids with autism communicate with their peers.
Deepika Kurup, a middle school student, invented a low-cost, solar-powered water purification systemDiscovery Education
Deepika Kurup, a student at Fairgrounds Middle School in New Hampshire, won the America's 2012 Top Young Scientist challenge held by Discovery Education and 3M. Her invention for a low-cost, solar-powered water purification system was inspired when she saw children drinking dirty water from a stagnant pool in India while she was on vacation there.
Karup's answer to the global water crisis is a composite that exposes titanium oxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles to sunlight, causing a chemical reaction that breaks down organic substances. The system, which Karup turned into panels that can treat water in batches, successfully cleaned dirty water from her local wastewater treatment facility. Belcher said she picked this invention to highlight because clean water is one of the most pressing needs on the planet.
"I truly believe that this technology has the power to save millions of lives across the world," Karup said in her online bio.