An old man with a wiry, gray beard, peers over a pair of spectacles as he studies trinkets and books at his antique, carved desk. You can practically see the wheels spinning in his head and he works towards how to bring his next great idea to life.
For many, the title of inventor invokes a stereotypical image like the one described above. But the fortunate truth is that inventors come in all shapes, sizes and especially ages. A great idea can strike anyone, anywhere, including the youngest kids. We wanted to give a shout out to some of the most famous inventions conjured up by young brilliant minds to prove you’re never too young to make your dreams come true.
Chances are, you’ve turned your television on for at least a couple of hours today, maybe more. Maybe you click the power button so automatically it’s as easy as breathing. Listed as one of the top 20 inventions of all time, the television has become an integral part of information sharing and entertainment in our modern society and it’s hard to imagine life without it. But there was a time before the tube – and we have a fourteen year old American boy to thank for this life-changing invention.
In 1920, Philo was a 14 year old in high-school in Idaho when he showed his chemistry teacher his design for an electronic television system. Many similar designs at the time were non-electric using small mirrors to convert light into electricity, so Farnsworth’s design with an “image dissector” stood out from the rest. A company called RCA ultimately paid Farnsworth a fee of $1 million to manufacture and market his revolutionary television design.
In the mid 1800’s, this young inventor created The Braille Reading System for the blind and visually impaired that is used around the world today. Louis Braille went blind at three years old after an accident, and had only fourteen bulky and expensive books for the visually impaired to read at his school. These books were written in raised letters, books which Braille found very hard and boring to read. So, he came up with a simple code system of six raised dots or bumps in various patterns that stood for letters and punctuation - or as we know it, just Braille.
Not only did this genius create a revolutionary way of communicating for people with visual disabilities, but he did it at the age of fifteen! He let neither his blindness nor his age hold him back from changing the world.
This wonderfully versatile frozen treat reminiscent of summer days in childhood was created quite serendipitously – or, completely by accident! In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson stirred up a concoction of water and soda powder in a glass with a stick and left it sitting on his porch overnight. Thanks to chilly overnight temperatures in San Francisco, Frank awoke the next morning to find that his mixture had frozen. He plucked it out by the stick and discovered it was also delicious!
Originally dubbed an “Eppsicle” – combination of “Epperson” and “icicle” – Frank began selling his “drink on a stick” treats around his neighborhood, and then expanding sales to Neptune Beach near San Francisco. After much initial success, Epperson applied for a patent, selling that his creation could be “conveniently consumed without contamination by contact with the hand and without the need for a plate, spoon, fork or other implement.” Later on, his children urged him to change the product to their affectionate name for the confection – “Pop’s ‘Sicle” or….Popsicle.
This product is known and enjoyed around the world, and this invention story proves that harnessing the accidental occurrences in life can takes us in new, unforeseen and successful directions in life!
This all-star inventor made the list not only because of his unique and helpful invention, but is also the youngest inductee into the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors. During a trip to the hospital as a child, Whale noticed that it was very cumbersome and unenjoyable for young kids to run around and play while hooked up to an IV line. To solve that issue and help kiddos play and have fun even while being treated in a hospital, Whale came up with the KidKare Riding Car, along with other similar equipment designed for childhood-aged patients in hospitals. An IV bag and pole and other equipment can be attached to the KidKare car so that children can move around and play more freely, while still being tethered to their IV and receiving vital in-hospital treatment.
The big “C” word (cancer) is never enjoyable to discuss – unless we’re talking about an invention that greatly improves diagnostic testing for Pancreatic Cancer, one of the most fatal types of the disease.
As only a high school Sophomore, Andraka won the youth achievement Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the new method of testing for pancreatic cancer that he invented – using nanotube technology to test for a protein called mesothelin emitted into the blood by the pancreas of someone with Pancreatic Cancer. Therefore, all that’s needed to test from the patient is a tiny drop of blood.
Andraka was not the first to invent the nanotube technology, but is the first to manipulate the process to target and test for Pancreatic Cancer. And his innovation could change the way fatal disease are diagnosed. He also received a $75,000 Grand Prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 for his invention.
These five intelligent and determined children literally changed and are STILL changing the world with their innovative thinking and commitment to bring their ideas to life. Thank goodness their parents trusted in their little ones’ visions and were just as committed to seeing their ideas through to the end. So, the next time your kiddo tells you “I think I have an idea for….,” make sure you listen. It could just be the next greatest idea the world has ever seen! Another testament to the notion that anyone, anywhere, at any time can happen upon the world’s next best invention.
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