Jan 062011
Block diagram of atomic force microscope
Image via Wikipedia

While we fret, some college students are busy creating the future

Reading a newspaper, watching CNN or even just looking around can bring on a feeling of impending doom. But in late October I ran into a few individuals who recharged my batteries. Because they do things like figure out better ways to recharge batteries. They were the 10 teams of finalists in the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s 20th Annual Collegiate Inventors Competition in Alexandria, Va.

I first covered the competition, which awards prizes to the best undergraduate and graduate student inventing teams, back in 2004 [see “The New College Try,” February 2005]. The grand prize winner that year was Ozgur Sahin. When he was 11, he built a mechanical adding machine from his Lego set. He won the 2004 competition for his improved atomic force microscope. (My greatest intellectual achievement to date was figuring out how to set the time on a digital answering machine.)

Of the 2010 efforts, the one I wanted to own immediately was an ingenious device invented by Lehigh University undergrads Michael Harm (whose nickname would be “First Do No” if I had anything to say about it), Gregory Capece and Nicholas Rocha. As freshmen, they were told to come up with a kitchen product that would help elderly people to remain in their homes longer.

Let’s think. A refrigerator with a built-in magnification system so elders can more easily see what’s in back? A table with legs of variable length that automatically levels itself on uneven floors, so that diners aren’t reduced to wedging matchbooks under a leg in a vain attempt to stop the wobble? A countertop TV that reduces anxiety by switching to soothing music whenever it detects a politician scaremongering about nonexistent death panels?

Read more . . .

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